A summary of an overlooked Indigenous history and current issues in Ohio.
BY ADELAIDE PETRAS ’24
Central Ohio is rich with Indigenous history, from the Clovis culture of 9500-8000 B.C. to Native American communities that still exist today. Native Americans have occupied the land that is now Upper Arlington for as long as human history has been documented. Despite this, Indigenous issues garner little media attention due to a centuries-long pattern of discrimination.
Upper Arlington has very little presence of Native Americans, with only 0.01% of its population being American Indian and Alaska Native, according to World Population Review. This can make it difficult to learn about Indigenous issues directly from the source—from Indigenous people themselves. However, it is necessary to find ways to embrace Native American culture and history, as well as learn about the issues that currently plague Indigenous communities.
A HIDDEN HISTORY
There is evidence of humans existing in Ohio beginning approximately 15,000 years ago with the Paleoindian Period. These people were likely hunters and gatherers who relied on the flora and fauna of the area they occupied. This period included the Clovis people, known for their distinctive stone and bone spear points and other tools.
“I excavated a site called the Burning Tree Mastodon south of Newark that had butchered mastodon bones in it, so we know they did occasionally [hunt mastodons],” Brad Lepper, Senior Archaeologist for the World Heritage Program at the Ohio History Connection, said. “And they also hunted deer and whatever other animals were here.”
Next, in roughly 8000 B.C., the Ice Age concludes, and a new era of Indigenous history begins: the Archaic Period, which lasts until 800 B.C.. According to Ohio History Central, these people continued the hunting and gathering societies of their predecessors, making stone tools and existing in chiefless communities. However, the end of the Ice Age came with changes in land resources that the people had to adapt to.
Following the Archaic Period was the Woodland Period, which is divided into the Early, Middle and Late Woodland Periods. Lepper explains that, during this time, people began to settle down and experiment with agriculture, in addition to hunting, fishing and gathering.
The Adena culture flourished during the Early Woodland Period and consisted of a web of Native American societies (not of just a single tribe). The Adena shared architecture styles and cultural practices such as mound building. These mounds could be massive—they were impressive architectural undertakings considering the technology of the time. Mounds were used for ceremonial and burial purposes and acted as territorial markers.
The Middle Woodland Period made way for the Hopewell Culture. Hopewell people developed agricultural practices, raising maize, beans and squash. They also participated in mound building, and their pottery and ornamental stonework and metalwork were prominent. The Hopewell held a significant role in trade, enriching Ohio’s position in the economy.
“Large quantities of [mica, copper and obsidian] were coming into these Hopewell ceremonial centers, and very little from Ohio was going in the other direction. So, I think, during the Hopewell, there used to be this old advertising slogan: ‘Ohio: the heart of it all,’” Lepper, who has a focus on Hopewell culture, said. “And I think 2,000 years ago, it was absolutely true that this was the religious and cultural center for much of Native America.”
Eventually, though, the egalitarian Hopewell society, which lacked an authoritarian leader, faded away. Lepper noted that the civilization possibly failed because it was an unsustainable model of government. This succeeds intertribal competition for farmland and hunting territory, which led to the Late Precontact Period from A.D. 700-1700. The Late Precontact Period was characterized by warfare and separation between tribes.
“They lived in large villages, and we’ve got a wonderful example here in Ohio, in Dayton. It’s called SunWatch Village; that’s a large Fort Ancient culture village, about 1,000 years old, that archaeologists excavated…and reconstructed the houses,” Lepper said. “You can actually walk into these 1,000 year-old houses and see the fire pits that people used to stand while they were warming themselves at the fire.”
This period continued until the French first set foot in the land that is now Ohio in the 17th century. In 1754, Ohio became a part of the British colonies after the French and Indian War.
On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, beginning official displacement of Native Americans. Many Native Americans resisted, as the act led to the violation of numerous treaties involving native land. Although the act was considered unconstitutional, Jackson carried out his plan to force Natives off their land.
Thus followed the Trail of Tears, the deadly trek of tens of thousands of Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole people after being forced off their land under threat from the United States Army. Thousands died, establishing the Trail of Tears as an example of the cruelty inflicted by the U.S. government and the continuous oppression of Indigenous peoples.
EDUCATION IN UA
Upper Arlington and its surrounding land was once home to the Shawandasse and the Myaamia tribes, among other Indigenous people. Today, it is a predominantly white suburb with a minuscule population of people who identify as Native American.
Oftentimes, people learn the most from their day-to-day encounters with people who are different from them–not from going out of their way to research a subject. In a place like Upper Arlington, that is not always possible, considering the lack of Native American people to provide first-hand knowledge.
“I’ve worked in environments where there was a bigger presence [of Native Americans], and you could actually engage with people from that background and learn from them, learn from their lived experiences, that kind of thing,” Matthew Boaz, UAHS Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion said. “And because we don’t have that here, it does become difficult to learn about, to ensure accuracy, things like that.”
A primary outlet of information about Indigenous peoples is simply history curriculum. Education can influence people’s worldviews beginning from a young age, so it is crucial that curriculums accurately and sufficiently portray Indigenous history.
Ohio’s learning standards for social studies require acknowledgement of the fact that Native Americans existed in North America before European settlement.
“Various groups of people have lived in Ohio over time, including American Indians, migrating settlers and immigrants. Interactions among these groups have resulted in cooperation, conflict and compromise,” the standards read.
Additionally, the standards recognize the consequences of European colonization for Native Americans.
“Continued settlement by Americans in the west intensified conflict with American Indians and reinforced the policy of the reservation system,” the standards read.
The standards also require students to learn about the cultural practices of groups that originally inhabited North America: “American Indians developed unique cultures with many different ways of life. American Indian tribes and nations can be classified into cultural groups on the basis of geographic and cultural similarities.”
Boaz emphasizes the importance of including Indigenous history in school curriculums. He commends the efforts of educators in highlighting the subject.
“I think when you look at the state standards of education, particularly as it pertains to social studies, there is Native American inclusion in that,” Boaz said. “And the leaders who are responsible for teaching and learning curriculum are certainly subject to those state standards and [are] certainly trying to be as inclusive as they can.”
LandBack is a movement that officially began in 2018, started by Aaron Tailfeathers, a member of the Kainai Tribe of the Blackfeet Confederacy of Canada–but its mission has been present for generations. The movement’s goal is to decolonize Indigenous land, returning it to its original inhabitants. However, the initiative doesn’t only include the returning of land; it involves rights to land, language, ceremony, food, education, health, governance, medicine, and kinship.
The movement is led by Indigenous people and for Indigenous people, and it’s motivated by a simple goal that encompasses numerous topics: decolonization.
The Shawnee Tribe is based in Oklahoma and has members across the country. The tribe funds numerous tribes to support its members such as housing & utilities assistance, youth & family services and child care assistance.
Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe has shown public support for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA establishes federal guidelines regarding adoption fo Native children. The act would ensure that cases of abuse and neglect are properly handled and that Native children are placed in homes that reflect their cultural values.
The legality of the act was challenged, and on Nov. 9, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments. A final verdict is expected in the spring of 2023.
Many view the possible elimination of ICWA as a threat to Native American sovereignty and a major step back in terms of social progress.
To support Indigenous people, the most important course of action is to simply listen to Indigenous people themselves. For those who are eligible to vote, material change can occur by supporting elected officials who support Indigenous issues. Additionally, it is crucial to show support for legislation and movements that benefit Native Americans.
The Ohio History Connection provides opportunities for Indigenous people to share their experiences.
“We don’t provide the agenda for what interpretation goes on there–the tribes do. So the tribes get to say what they want to say and tell their story there,” Lepper said. “And I think that’s going to happen more and more, particularly with Indigenous sites, because that’s the only right thing to do.”