Ohio’s First Humanists: Native Americans from Mound Building to Modern Voices
This exhibit traces Indigenous Americans’ material and cultural contributions to Ohio from their early creation of large earthworks to modern representations and reflections on the past.
Learn about First Nations’ roles in shaping place names and get interpretive glimpses in to early Ohio’s history of Native American-white contact, which included collaboration, conflict, and removal.
Explore present-day stewardship of Native American culture and art, including the impressive collection of Diné (Navajo) weavings at the Kennedy Museum of Art, as well as the voices of innovative communicators looking to change perceptions about Native American peoples and powerful leaders, such as Glenna Wallace, the Chief of the Eastern Shawnee nation, whose ancestors were displaced from these lands.
And discover the value of moving beyond traditional Eurocentric understandings of the humanities to explore the first humans to inhabit this region and North America more broadly.
The curators extend special thanks to John N. Low, Ph.D., Citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and Director of the Newark Earthworks Center, Ohio State University Newark Campus, for his advice and review of this exhibit.
Statement about Land Acknowledgement and Inclusive Public Spaces: this work is presented in a space initially settled and developed during the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient eras. The Southeastern Ohio region was at one time a convergence zone of some 40 tribes, including the Mingo, Erie, Lenape, Wyandot, and Miami people...
The name “Ohio'' comes from a Seneca (Iroquois) word, which means “good” or “great river.” The state’s major rivers, including the Muskingum and the Miami, continue to bear the names that different Native American groups gave them, written down by European traders, settlers, and early mapmakers.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the first humans to move into the Hocking Valley region arrived between 8000 to 1500 B.C. During the Adena and Hopewell eras, Native Americans established a more settled presence. Issues of preservation and respect remain today.
Many Native American groups, like their European counterparts, sought to explain natural and supernatural phenomena through sacred stories. One oral tradition, common among diverse Great Lake regions tribes, tells the story of a great flood whereby the Creator sought to purify and remake human society.
Neither the British nor the Americans considered Native American claims in the 1783 peace treaty ending the American Revolution. Lenape leader Kageshquanohel, or “Captain Pipe,” appealed to American officials to respect neutrality and his peoples’ land claims. Despite this desire, members of his own family were killed by American militia.
Tecumseh urged the tribes of the Northwest Territory to band together as one nation to resist white encroachment on their lands. He remains an enduring symbol of Native American resistance to white conquest. Tenskwatawa was a spiritual leader who preached that Native Americans would return to their former greatness if they gave up all adaptations to white society.
Weaving is Life (2005-2007) was co-curated by noted Navajo weaver D.Y. Begay and Kennedy Museum of Art curator Dr. Jennifer McLerran. The exhibition featured works from multiple generations of artists from four different families of Navajo weavers.
This exhibition explored Diné weaving design from the perspective of their traditions and beliefs—and how fundamental mathematical ideas are also embedded in the designs. Mathematics are integral not only to the designs, but also to Diné cosmology.
Glenna Wallace, Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, says that even though the U.S. government forced the Shawnee to leave their Ohio Valley home for reservations in Oklahoma and Kansas Ohio remains a special place to her and other members of her tribe: “We are still here in a certain way. We are here in our hearts.”
Zitkala-Sa (1876-1938), whose name meant Red Bird in her native language, was a Yankton Dakota Sioux born on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota. She a well-known writer, musician, and political activist, often working under her English married name, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin.
Sarah Liese is a Navajo and Chippewa Cree who joined the Ohio University School of Journalism as a master’s student in 2020. Under the mentorship of Dr. Victoria LaPoe, Liese has worked to lift up Indigenous stories and shine a light on media distortions and stereotyping of Indigenous people.