As a child I spent many hot, humid summer afternoons in the regrowth forest that rimmed a cornfield behind our family's house in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. Sitting on fallen logs, tracking garter snakes and frogs, and picking raspberries, I tried to imagine the ancient forests of Ohio: the beech and oak giants that once towered from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, the prairies that stretched to the west into Indiana and then beyond, and the Fort Ancient people, who passed easily along forest trails from village to village.
Over the years I discovered shreds of what Ohio once was. In the southwestern corner of the state, an uncut stand of climax forest still towers beside Houston Woods Reservoir, miraculously untouched by the farmers who tilled the neighboring land for generations. Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, north Dayton, maintains and slowly expands an area of the tall-grass prairie. Perhaps the most miraculous survivors, though, are the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band, officially recognized by the state of Ohio in January 1980, relatives of the For Ancient people who settled in the forests of Ohio more than a thousand years ago.
"We Have Made History"
The Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band, like the forest of Houston Woods and the prairie at Aullwood, now has protected land of its own. In May 1989 the tribe bought 20 acres of land south of Urbana, Ohio. For the first time in 159 years, a tribe of native people own land in Ohio. "And we have made history," says Geah (or Crow Woman), the Mother of the Nation.
This land was not given to them by the US or the Ohio State governments. "We have earned our money," explains Crow Woman. "We didn't have the government give it to us. We've earned our land through work - hard work for some of us. Oh, I would say all of us."
When asked if the tribe wants federal recognition, Crow Woman shakes her head emphatically. "No. We don't want it. You get too involved with the government, which is what a lot of the reservation Indians are. They can come in, give you money, grants, whatever, but they can also have a say in what you're going to do with it. We don't have that, we don't have to worry about that."
In 1984 the Council of the Shawnee Band met to create a vision for the tribe. "And the first thing mentioned," says Crow Woman, "was the land. And then it was discussed how we would go about doing this. We could set up at powwows. We were asked to go to the [Ohio] State Fair and participate, have a booth, sell our crafts. This was the start."
A percentage of all of their income went into a land fund. "And over a five-year period," continues Crow Woman, "we had $11,000 in the bank. Then we had something to work with."
They decided to stay in Champagne County, and finally found land south of Urbana. "And we found 20 of the most beautiful acres you've ever seen," says Crow Woman. "You stand there, and you see, and the tear - even in the men's eyes - the tears, with the joy of `this is ours.' They can't take this from us. We have earned it. We have purchased it. We have legal documents saying it's the Shawnee National United Remnant Band's."
"I think we really lucked into that place," says Hawk Pope, principal chief. "It's unique. It's so close to Urbana, which is one of the cities listed in Ohio as growing... But it's three-eighths of a mile off the nearest road. Now where are you going to get that kind of isolation, and that kind of proximity to a place of employment, place of hospitals, at the same time?"
Now that the tribe has fulfilled the vision of buying land, the next step is "getting it fixed so we can move on it. A goal that we have is getting the front acres," says Crow Woman, laughing.
"But with this part [the front acres on Highway 54]," she says, "then family members can buy the lifetime use of acre sections, and we can become a community. That's what we're looking forward to. That's our goal... It isn't something that's in the near future. There is no way right now." The tribe also envisions museum and a store to sell crafts and fresh produce, among other things.
The most important part of buying the land, though, is creating a home base for all of the people in the United Remnant Band, old and young alike. "It will be a place where the kids can grow up together," says Hawk, "and share common experiences together, and to really know each other. Be almost like brother and sister, be almost like family again... This place has got to feel like home to every single member of the tribe. They've got to be totally, completely comfortable with the place. So it's their place. I have very definite ideas about what uses it can be put to, but I don't want to be so hard headed as to make anybody feel like it's not theirs."
"So this is kind of a long-range goal," says Crow Woman. "But you have to take one step at a time."
"Backing Right Into Safety"
For generations the Shawnee people have endured by taking one carefully placed step at a time. After the defeat of their great leader, Tecumseh, in 1813, the band of Shawandasse people who had followed him to Canada were unsure of their next move.
"They would not let go of him [Tecumseh], which is a flaw," says Hawk. "I admire it from one perspective, but in all reality it's flaw... And it's not just Shawnee, it's an Algonquin failing, and it must be from our common ancestry."
Some of the Shawnee in Ohio, who had been with Black Hoof, moved to a reservation in northern Ohio and then later to Oklahoma. Many, though, moved back into Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. They scattered in small bands and established 32 communities among the newly arrived homesteaders. Some single families also assimilated into the surrounding culture.
One group in southeastern Indiana was guided by a man named Aaron Flowers. "He wasn't a chief," explains Hawk, "but he was an influential man among the people in the 1840s. [He made] extremely in telligent use of their laws in order to stay... He knew, somehow, that if you homesteaded land, if you didn't want them to come check if you'd `proved up' on the land - built a livable dwelling, fenced off, cleared, I think, 50 percent of what you had claimed - you picked ground that they were real anxious to get somebody to homestead because it wasn't real good ground."
Twelve Shawnee families homesteaded a lot of Brandywine Township in Hancock County, Indiana. They took on names that blended with the newly arrived Europeans. The Roan Horse family, for example, took the name "Roan."
The people chose the southeastern corner of Hancock County because over the centuries the maple trees covering the rocky hills had shed leaves and branches and sap, decaying into the "slimiest yellow clay that you can imagine. I mean, you can't even stand up on it when it's wet," says Hawk. "So you're talking about rocky bottoms and sugar tree hills - that's how granddad always described it."
After the time period for proving up had passed, the people received their homesteading certificate from the government. They became landowners. They filed for a deed at the courthouse in Greenfield, Indiana. As soon as they could, the people voted in local elections, then state and federal elections. At that time only citizens of the United States who owned land could vote.
"So they backed into citizenship," explains Hawk Pope. "They backed into land ownership, they backed into the right to vote, and they backed into citizenship. Facing the white people surrounding them all the time and backing right into safety. Permanent safety." Slowly he weaves the story of a people who suddenly vanished from history with the passing of Tecumseh…
A few of the band joined Black Hoof, who soon agreed with the US government to relocate on a reservation in Oklahoma. Although the two bands - the ones that settled in Oklahoma and the ones that remained in Ohio, northern Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois - maintained some contact, bitterness still remains.
"My grandfather's attitude," comments Hawk Pope, "was, `Well, you left!... you left the homeland. I don't know who you are anymore, but you're the one that went and left and lived with 92 other tribes, for God's sakes, in Oklahoma. How could you even say, after all these years of living with 92 other tribes... ' And their [the Shawnee in Oklahoma] attitude was `Hey, you didn't come with us!'" says Hawk, laughing. "You can't resolve that.
"The attitude was that this was the homeland, and we weren't going to leave. And the ancient tradition of always leaving something, some of t hem behind. To never completely give up a place. It was unshakable, unbreakable. Nothing else could have happened.
"At this day and age, I don't know what everybody else thinks, but... I think the feud is foolish... What's even worse, I don't ever see it going away. Maybe when he's grown up," says Hawk, nodding at his son, Shawota. "Maybe in his time. Maybe."
For the ones who remained in the east, the game of hide-and-seek began, to be played over many generations before they could safely come into the open again. "A lot of our people," says Reverend Fred Shaw, storyteller for the United Remnant Band, "when they learned English, would say things like `I'm going the road up.' Just like the German immigrants who were coming to settle in this area. So they took on German names. What else would you have to do so that people wouldn't recognize you?" he asks the children at a Girl Scout day camp in southern Ohio.
One little girl raises a willowy arm. "The kind of clothes you wear," she says, pointing at his buckskin pants, the otter skin hat, the long-sleeved cloth shirt with silver bracelets clasped around the upper arms, and beaded leather moccasins. Reverend Shaw dresses in authentic clothes from the 1780s, when the Shawnee were at their strongest. He certainly does not look like the stereotyped Indian in a Saturday afternoon Western rerun.
"That's right. You couldn't wear this in town. What else?"
"You couldn't walk the same."
"Right. The mockathee'kah, what you call moccasins, are made of elk skin. They're very soft. The reason for that is when you go on a trail, we want to feel if there's a stick underneath. And that way you don't step on it, you move aside. A Shawnee man did not walk heel-toe, heel-toe in the woods; instead, he walks on the ball o f his foot, and he's always balanced and is able to flow. That way if I feel something, I'm already able to step aside, and then I can walk quiet. So in town we learned to walk like this," he says, weight thrown onto his heels, arms pumping at his sides. "Then no one would know we were different. What else?"
The children continue to name articles of clothing, possessions, body postures. After a few minutes Reverend Shaw interrupts. "There's one nobody's mentioned, one of the most obvious... " Silence. "It's language. I couldn't speak my own language or people would know who I was."
The children nod. When Shaw - also known by his people as Neeake - rumbles a Shawandasse greeting to the forest and those gathered to listen to the stories, they understand fully. Shawandasse is the language of a forest-dwelling people, not from the fields of England or Germany.
For 17 years Reverend Shaw, a United Methodist minister, has told the stories of his people, the Shawnee, or, as they call themselves, the Shawandasse. "The British called us Shawanae," explains Shaw. "But the Americans, they like to shorten everything. If your name is William, they'll call you Bill. If it's Elizabeth, they'll call you Liz. So they shortened our name and called us Shawnee."
Shaw's storytelling career began when his wife invited him to show some artifacts to the children in her second grade class. "[I] came in dressed in my three-piece business suit," recalls Shaw, "and went ahead and showed the artifacts. The kids liked them. The next year, she asked me to do it again, but in the meantime I'd been reading some captivity journals. And instead of the person being captive, he [the writer of the stories] was captivated. He had written some stories and things like that.
"So, one of the stories related to the artifacts, and I told it. And the kids were more fascinated with it than they were with the artifacts. Before long I realized that artifacts are heavy. Stories aren't."
Only in the last five year, though, did Shaw know that other Shawandasse still lived in Ohio. Hawk Pope came to one of his performances and invited him home to dinner afterward. "Once we were home, [Hawk] said, `There's two things I have to tell you. The first is, Creator has gifted you as a storyteller. Second is, you don't know your people are alive.' And with that I was invited back into the tribe."
Shaw learned of his heritage in a roundabout way, too. "My second grade teacher called me out in the hall one day. You know what that means," he says, looking at the day camp children squirming with school memories of their own. "you're gonna die, right?" The kids erupt in squeals of nervous laughter.
"Well, she took me out in the hall and told me, `Fred, there's something about you that's different, and it's special. I know your parents haven't told you, but I also know there are people in the world who don't think it's special, and one of them is going to tell you.' So she told me my history. Her family had been one that had welcomed mine into the community in 1832 and had just kept the secret. And it was a secret, that's all there was to it."
After school Fred ran home to his parents, bursting with the secret. "`We're Shawnee, aren't we?' My parents look up and said `Yeah,'" says Shaw in a deadpan voice. "And they never said anything again until I cornered them as a teenager.
"When I told our son when he was four years old, he cried. When I calmed him down and asked him what he was upset about, he said, `But, Dad, I wanted to be a cowboy.'
"So I explained to him that I used to break and train horses, and that I wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat then. I said, `Do you think that counts?'
"He thought some, and then he thought a little more, and then he said, `Does that mean I'm both?'
"And that's how our people are today. We are part of both cultures. We've had to intermarry over the years. That's part of survival. We're really an assimilated tribe. All of us - as far as I know, at least - are holding jobs some place in the market place. We speak English very fluently, we know how to play Donkey-Kong on Nintendo…
"But at the same time, we are people who know what our heritage is, we know our history, we gather four times a year to perform the ceremonies, we are relearning the language. We had to relearn it because until 1934 it was against the law to teach it."
This quality - the ability to bridge both cultures - earns the Shawnee much respect, but the close times between both cultures have their drawbacks, too. "If you have a child and he's a Shawnee and he goes to school anywhere in this country," says Hawk, "he's probably the only one at school. He grows up with all these other people who aren't, who do you think he's going to marry? Or she. Who's she going to marry?"
When asked whether having the land and performing the ceremonies will slow down this trend, Hawk reflects for a moment. "It'll slow down some. What our children and grandchildren are going to have to hold on to is what we're teaching them, and that is even when it comes a time when the person with the most blood in the tribe is only 1/256th, you're still in the Shawnee tribe. Because you're all that's left of it. And as long as you're all that's left of it, you are it.
"And if the culture remains, if the beliefs remain, if the traditions - the dances, the songs, all of the aspects of the tribe that make it the tribe - if all those things remain, if they have grown, if they're flourishing, and the people are of very little blood, but some - a token amount, and that's all there is anywhere - then you are the tribe."
Is it the heart, the essence of the tribe, that goes on? "I have a personal fight with that," says Hawk. "Marry any of them, any of the Algonquin people... Continue to exist, continue to be a people. Try it. Be with these people. Go to powwows. See if you even like them. At least find out. That's also where I'm coming from, not just whatever's left will be... will be…
"We've got a few old folks. There's still a few near full-bloods left. I can count them on my fingers, but there's that many left. They're up in years."
Tracing the Lineage
Legally, the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band requires people to trace their lineage, to prove that they are at least one-eighth Shawnee, or one-sixteenth if you are a child of a provable person. "[That is the] final cutoff," explains Hawk, "which is a real hard thing for us to decide, because that means that some of our grandchildren, at least some of our great-grandchildren, aren't going to be on the roll.
"But it's a matter of are we really who we say we are, or is there a good deal of wishful thinking going on here, and it's irresponsible to the people who really are…
"The people who `drop off the end,' so to speak, aren't dropped by the tribe, they just aren't numbered, they aren't kept track of on a roll... Anybody we know who has Shawnee blood we keep track of because genealogists and people doing genealogy work in their own behalf are all the time coming to us as a possible source. And we get as much from them as we give... and they think there might be some connection to the tribe, so their information at least hits near the mark. So we're defining ourselves by all of the hits on the hull of the ship."
People who are not of the Shawnee lineage are sometimes accepted into the tribe, too, although they are not included on the roll. Non-native spouses of tribe members and a few others have become members of the Moon Society. Traditionally the Shawnee have accepted people into their tribe, treating them as equals in the nation. The Moon Society members participate fully in the ceremonial and social life and are restricted only from the inner council, although they may offer suggestions in the open council.
The Council makes most decisions for the United Remnant Band. "The women are equal to the men," explains Crow Woman. "They walk beside their men. The Nation's Mother is right beside the principal chief - and that's in decision making, or if need be, she makes the decision, or the principal chief does, and then it goes to the clan heads.
"There's a clan mother and a clan chief for each clan, and the voice is the same in council. She can speak out for or against, even with her own clan chief. But usually that is worked out before you go into council."
This equal relationship between male and female is enacted by the tribe in the Bread Dance Ceremony. During the ceremony the women feed the men bread, and the men feed the women meat, "to say that there are two lines of responsibility," explains Reverend Shaw. "The women are in charge of the Three Sacred Sisters - Corn, Beans, and Squash. The men are in charge of the hunt. And neither can live without the other."
"The Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band," says Hawk Pope, "we are the uniting of the remnants. What we consist of is exactly what it sounds like if anyone would bother to think about the name and what it might mean.
"We were in Indiana basically, myself and all I knew of the people. My grandfather died in '59. I was only 18. You cannot be chief until you are 30. That's 12 years that very little went on. I could not believe the exodus that took place. Whole families moved. `Maybe we would do better in California, or Texas, or wherever.'
"By 1969 I was super-actively seeking them out. I had promised my grandfather the last year of his life - nobody knew at the time it was the last year of his live... I promised him, and I promised a lot of the old people, I would try to put it back together."
Hawk struggled to retrain people about the fundamental beliefs of the Shawandasse people. "I had a great deal of difficulty selling the idea that modern Shawnee ought to adhere to the ancient beliefs of the tribe until I had studied it so thoroughly myself that I could honestly say that there are no theological differences between our ancient belief, which is called Coashelequa, and Christianity in its original, purest form... The differences that exist are cultural, not theological.
"So, our ceremonies are prayers, and our prayers are visible. They're visual prayers. We present ourselves to Creator in the way we would have Him see us. Because if He sees us that way, he will think of us that way, and we will continue to be that way. That's the basis of our worship."
The image that tribe members carry of each other is of great importance, too. When someone is ill, "we're not a very sympathetic people," explains Hawk. "That's what explorers and historians always say of us. It would not serve the ill to be sympathetic. We treat them as if they are whole and well... we try our best to see them that way. No matter how ill they are, they try to appear as well as they can... and we minister to their actual needs, physically. Emotionally and spiritually that's the way we minister to that need - by keeping them well, by keeping them strong, by lending them our strength. By not letting them get maudlin or sink in the swamps of despair."
Although the Shawnee people may appear "unsympathetic," almost all of the tribe members mention the Shawnee people's great affection for one another.
"The Shawnee people are the greatest huggers you have ever met in your life," says Crow Woman. "That's a bonding between you and that person, or all of them. There may be some you don't get quite as close to as others, but there's some you just... it's like I've known them before. There's a part of them that's a part of me. I can feel it, I can sense it, I can see it. And we're family."
For many of the Europeans who have come to North America, this sense of family remains elusive, or has been forgotten. "If you have brothers and sisters, if you live in a family, you can' undo the fact that your brother is your brother," says Hawk. "So you're gonna have to figure out some way... to live with him, no matter what he is like.
"It's the same thing in a tribe, except there never comes a time when you can move away from it. So you have to figure some way to change - yourself a little, the offending person a lot. You have to work on it. You can't move away from it. You can't just leave it. That's the easy solution. "But it destroys society... It destroys the culture. You can't have a society that continues through thousands of years if you keep moving away from your problems. Which is what the Europeans have consistently done for thousands of years. They have moved away from their problems. And brought them with them."
The Shawnee, though, have not returned to Ohio with a sense of injustice toward the incoming culture. "We've come here with tools in our hands and knowledge in our minds," says Hawk, "and a strong heart and a desire to be part of Ohio again. We weren't asking for anything to be given to us, and we didn't plan to."
"We think that some of the concepts that we have are very necessary for understanding proper ecology, human relationships," says Shaw. "We think we've got something to offer there. We are not out to make everybody else Shawnee, or to even have everybody think the way we do. But we do expect our children to have a place without any apology."
How You Can Help
The Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band still owes $18,000 on the land purchased south of Urbana, Ohio. If you would like to donate funds to help complete the payments, please make checks or money orders payable to The Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band Land Fund. Sent to:
Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band
P.O. Box 162
Dayton, OH 45401
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.