Shawnee Spirituality

The Shawnee, whose name means “Southerners”, once occupied a vast region west of the Cumberland mountains of the Appalachian chain in what is now part of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Like the other Algonquian-speaking tribes of the western part of the Northeast Woodlands Culture Area, the Shawnee had a traditional economy based on farming (corn, beans, and squash), hunting, and gathering wild plants.

As was common among hunting tribes, spirituality was an important part of hunting. In his book The Shawnees and the War for America, Colin Calloway writes:  “In the Shawnee world, humans and animals communicated, hunters dreamed the whereabouts of their prey and offered prayers to the spirits of the animals that gave their bodies so that the people might live.”

In order to maintain the harmony between humans and the animal people, and between humans and the plant people, it was necessary to conduct certain rituals to keep the world in balance.

Among many of the woodlands tribes sacred medicine bundles were important. The Shawnee at one time had a sacred bundle – mishaami – for each of the five divisions of the tribe. The Shawnee were a confederacy of five political units: Chillicothe (Chalahgawtha), Hathawekela (also spelled as Thawekila or Thawegila), Kispoko (Kispokotha), Mequachake (Mekoche or Maykujay), and Piqua (Pekowi). The bundles contained not only items which were sacred, but also included ritual concepts and songs.

The Shawnee were originally given their bundles by Our Grandmother at the time of creation. Since that time, items have been added to the bundles. According to James Howard, in his book Shawnee! The Ceremonialism of a Native American Tribe and its Cultural Background:  “Each of the sacred bundles is assigned to the care of a designated custodian, who is always a man, and a person of high moral character.”

The bundle was traditionally kept in a structure which was separate from the keeper’s home. James Howard also writes:  “The bundles are treated much as human beings, and it is believed that they may become cramped from resting too much in one position.”  Therefore, the position of the bundles is regularly shifted.

The Dakwanekawe or Bread Dance was an important Shawnee ceremony which was traditionally held in the spring and in the fall. The ceremony was given to the Shawnee by Our Grandmother who sometimes appeared on earth to observe the ceremony and to participate in the singing. In the spring, the role of women in the ceremony was predominant and this ceremony asked for fertility and good crops. In the fall, the men led the dancing and their role as hunters was emphasized. The spring dance asked for an abundant harvest while the fall dance expressed thanksgiving and asked for abundant game.

The Green Corn Dance was held in August and marked the first corn harvest. Charles Callender, in his chapter on the Shawnee in the Handbook of North American Indians reports:  “On this occasion persons were absolved of misconduct, and all injuries except murder were forgiven.”  The Green Corn Dance lasted from 4 to 12 days.

The Buffalo Dance was generally held in late August or early September. The dance was originally given to Tecumseh by the Buffalo, his guardian spirit. Two kettles of corn mush were prepared for the dance as this dish was favored by the buffalo. The ceremony included body painting and eight sets of dances which were performed by men and women. The final element of the dance was a mock battle for the corn mush, which was then eaten. Social dances often followed the ceremony.

The Buffalo Dance was conducted outside of the ceremonial grounds used for other ceremonies because it did not come from Our Grandmother.

Among the Shawnee, funeral rites usually lasted four days. The body was buried on its back in an extended position with the head toward the west. Prior to burial, friends and relatives would dress and paint the body. Before the grave was filled, friends and relatives would sprinkle small amounts of tobacco over the body and ask the soul not to look back or to think about those remaining behind.

Ancient America: The Northeast Prior to 8000 BCE

The Northeastern Woodlands of North America is a land of heavily forested rolling hills and rounded mountains, salt marshes of waving grass, calm lakes, tumbling brooks, surf-beaten beaches, and rocky coves. This culture area stretches west from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, and from Virginia in the south to New Brunswick in the north. The era from earliest habitation to about 8000 BCE is called the Early Paleo-Indian Period by some archaeologists. A few of the archaeological findings for this period from the Northeast are briefly described below.

The ice sheets that once covered the northern part of the continent began their withdrawal from the Northeast about 15,000 BCE. Human habitation in the area began when the ice sheet still covered much of the area. David Anderson, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, reports:  “Paleo-Indian groups near the ice sheets targeted large game, particularly caribou, while groups in the Woodlands to the south were more generalized foragers, exploiting a wide range of animals and plant species.”

The overall data seems to suggest that there was initial settlement along major rivers at sites where there was high quality stone for making tools. According to David Anderson:  “These localities are thought to reflect areas of initial extended settlement, staging areas from which the colonization of the larger region proceeded.”

At present, the earliest evidence of human occupation in the Northeast comes from the Cactus Hill site on the east bank of the Nottoway River in southeastern Virginia. The site is about 13 miles east of the Fall Zone. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their somewhat controversial book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture,  write:  “Sometime between 20,100 and 22,600 years ago, people began to use the sand ridge as a temporary campsite.”

In southwestern Pennsylvania, people were using the Meadowcroft Rockshelter by 17,600 BCE, a time when the Laurentide ice sheet was only 50 miles away.

The earliest people in the Northeast appear to have been hunting and gathering people who were living in small, highly mobile bands. They often used fluted bifacial projectile points (most likely spear points) which had a rough resemblance to the famous Clovis points. Some archaeologists characterize the earliest inhabitants of the region as using “Clovis-like” points and associated stone tools. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, Robert Funk reports:  “The fluted-point hunters probably entered the Northeast from the south and west following the glacial retreat.”

In Virginia, Indian people began to occupy the Cactus Hill site south of Richmond by 15,000 BCE. They were making blades from quartzite cores that had been collected elsewhere. The blades were made by striking the core with a soft stone hammer. They were making lanceolate, unfluted bifacial points that could be used as projectile points or as hafted knives. With regard to the implications of this tool kit, archaeologist J.M. Adovasio, in his book The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology’s Greatest Mystery, writes:  “these appear to have been the work of people who were foraging for a variety of faunal and floral food resources.”

In the western portion of the Northeastern region, Indian people were butchering mammoths at the Chesrow site in Wisconsin by 11,500 BCE. The stone tools used at this site were made from a poor quality stone which is not suited for fine flintknapping. At this time, the good stone in central Wisconsin was still buried under the ice sheets. With regard to the people at this site, archaeologist Alice Beck Kehoe writes in her book America Before the European Invasions:  “They were intrepid pioneers indeed, cutting up wooly mammoths within a few days’ walk of ice fields stretching north beyond the horizon.”  At about this same time, Indian people hunted and butchered a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth in Ohio.

By about 11,000 BCE, Indian people occupied a cave in what is now Ohio. They were using stone tools, including scrapers and gravers. The animals hunted by these people included the short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), a giant, long-legged omnivore; stagmoose (Cervalces scotti), an animal that resembled modern moose except for its forked antlers; giant beaver, (Castoroides ohioensis), an animal that reached up to nine feet in length; flat-headed peccary, (Platygonus compressus), the wide-ranging American pig of the Pleistocene; and caribou (Rangifer tarandus).

By 10,500 BCE Indian people called Early Hunters by archaeologists were settling in the tundra adjoining the southern edge of the Wisconsin ice sheet. As the ice withdrew, spruce woodlands appeared which were utilized by these people.

At about this same time, the Dutchess Quarry Cave in what is now New York was being used for  making fluted points. The people at this site were hunting caribou.

About 10,000 BCE Indian people began to move into New England. Archaeologist Dena Dincauze, in her chapter in The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation, calls these people “Pioneers” and writes:  “Clad in their caribou-skin clothing, carrying infants and household goods and thrusting spears with elegantly shaped points of colorful stone, these are the people who first gave names to the landscape, who explained its special areas and vistas in terms of their own cosmology, and who first explored and exploited its riches for human purposes.”

At about this same time, Indian people were now living in New Jersey. In his book Looking Beneath the Surface: The Story of Archaeology in New Jersey, archaeologist R. Alan Mounier writes:  “Their signature artifact—the fluted point—is among the most recognizable of relics, owing to its graceful shape, its exquisite workmanship, and its celebrity, arising from its relative antiquity.”

About 9500 BCE Indian people established a hunting camp at the Conover Site in Virginia. They were using a variety of chert tools, including fluted projectile points, bifaces, and unifacial tools.

By 9300 BCE, Indian people began moving up the Champlain and Connecticut Valleys into the state of Vermont. Part of their economy was based on hunting caribou. They may have also exploited the marine resources of the Champlain Sea.

At about this same time in New Hampshire, Indian people occupied the Colebrook site. They were using a type of spear point which archaeologists call Michaud/Neponset.

By 9000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Thunderbird site on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in present-day Virginia. The occupants were making and using Clovis-type points. Thunderbird was a base camp and was associated with a nearby quarry. According to Ian Shaw and Robert Jameson  in A Dictionary of Archaeology:  “An important activity was the refurbishing of toolkits with new flaked stone tools manufactured from jasper collected from a nearby quarry.”

By 8900 BCE, Indian people occupied Sheriden Cave in present-day Ohio. In addition to stone tools (identified as Clovis-like), they were also using bone tools.

By 8800 BCE, Indian hunters using Clovis technology were hunting mastodons at the Hiscock site in present-day New York.

By 8600 BCE, the period which archaeologists call the Bull Brook phase in present-day Massachusetts, begins. With regard to material culture, the Indian people at this time were using fluted points.

About 8500 BCE, Indian people established a seasonal site at Vail in present-day Maine for killing caribou. The caribou were killed along a sandy patch of ground near the river and then the animals were processed for hide, meat, and marrow. The hunters maintained their camp across the river from the kill site.

With regard to their tool kit, hunters were using fluted points with deep, concave bases which are similar to those used by the people at the Debert site in Nova Scotia. While the nearest suitable source for stone for making tools is about 25 kilometers away, the hunters and food processors were using stone tools which come from more distant quarries in Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. The people living at the Vail site were using tents which measured about 4.5 by 6 meters (approximately 15 by 20 feet).

About 8300 BCE, a large group of Indian people established a seasonal camp near present-day Traverse City, Michigan. They were using stone tools which were made from stone from the Saginaw Bay area, 100 miles away.

Hopi Political Organization

In 1934, the United States enacted the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) which envisioned Indian tribes adopting constitutions and governmental forms which imitated those of the United States. The United States assumed that an Indian “tribe” was a governmental unit and that “reservation” and “tribe” were one and the same. There was little concern for or recognition of traditional forms of government.

Under the IRA each “tribe” (“reservation”) was to vote on whether or not they wanted to reorganize. In 1936, the Hopi in Arizona voted on reorganization under the IRA. Only 20% of the Hopi turned out to vote and less than 15% of the total population actually supported reorganization. Harry James, in his book Pages from Hopi History, writes:  “When the final vote was taken, the Hopi who opposed the establishment of a tribal council were true to their traditional procedure in such matters and simply abstained from voting either for or against it.”

In other words, the Hopi “voted with their feet” by not participating in their election and in this way they demonstrated their opposition. While those familiar with traditional Hopi government recognized that only a small minority of the Hopi favored reorganization, the federal government, using only the numbers from those who actually voted, declared that the Hopi would be reorganized. Despite resistance to a unified Hopi government, a tribal council was established and all of the villages, with the exception of Oraibi and Hotevilla, sent representatives. The new government was the first time the Hopi had a central government and the new tribal council represented an alien way of life and government.

Traditional Hopi Government:

 Hopi are a Pueblo people who have lived in permanent agricultural villages in present-day Arizona for more than a thousand years. The name “Hopi” is a contraction of Hopi-tuh which means “peaceful ones.” While the United States has insisted on dealing with the Hopi as if they were a single tribe, they have been, and continue to be, a collection of independent, autonomous, and self-governing villages. Each of the Hopi villages has traditionally been self-governing, though the form of village government is similar in all villages. In an article in North American Indian Anthropology: Essays on Society and Culture, anthropologist Triloki Nath Pandey writes:   “There is no central authority for the Hopis as a whole. Within each major village there is a hereditary group of priests or chiefs.”

While the Hopi villages were tied together by a common language and religious beliefs, people identified themselves by their village. The concept of “Hopi” indicated a culture, but not a governmental entity.

The traditional Hopi villages were ruled by clan theocracies in which the kikmongwi (high priest) served as the father of the village as well as the priest for the most important village ceremony. In the Hopi village of Oraibi, for example, the kikmongwi was the head of the Bear Clan and the chief priest of the Soyal ceremony. The kikmongwi would usually appoint at least one spokesman who would speak for him.

Hopi clans, by the way, are matrilineal, which means that each person belongs to the mother’s clan. Each of the clans has its own ceremonies and its own history.

The primary role of the kikmongwi was to ensure the success of the crops and thus the well-being of the villages by carrying out ceremonial obligations. Political authority focused primarily on resolving disputes regarding land use. The kikmongwi leads by examples of humility, hard work and good thoughts. If a chief fails to follow the proper path, the Hopi are quick to criticize him, reminding him of the ancient principles.

Each Hopi village also had a qaletaqmongwi or war chief who was responsible for enforcing internal social order and for dealing with external affairs.

The town crier in each Hopi village would inform the people about village events. In The Hopi Indians of Old Oraibi: Change and Continuity , anthropologist Mischa Titiev, writing about Oraibi, notes:  “Some of the ordinary announcements they make suggest that they occasionally act as agents to maintain discipline.”

The village government was formed by the leaders – Crier Chiefs, Kiva Chiefs, and others – with clan relationships indicating governmental positions. According to writer Catherine Feher-Elston, in her book Children of Sacred Ground: America’s Last Indian War:  “It is true that the priests, religious leaders, warriors, and kikmongwis would listen to various opinions before making decisions, but government was not necessarily by consensus.”

After tribal reorganization in 1936, with a tribal government formed according to a constitution and bylaws written for them by anthropologist Oliver LaFarge, everything was supposed to change. However, the villages have continued to be self-governing, often ignoring the existence of a tribal council.

An Experiment in Self-Government

In its dealings with Indian Nations, the United States often imposed an alien form of government on them. This government was not a democracy, but usually a dictatorship in which the leaders were chosen by the United States based on their willingness to follow the dictates and changing whims of the U.S. government. For a short period of time in the late nineteenth century, one “tribe” was allowed an experiment in self-government. That “tribe” was the Chiricahua Apache.

Some Background:

 In the late 1300’s and early 1400’s groups of hunting and gathering Athabascans began arriving in the Southwest from the far north in Canada. These were the ancestors of the Navajo and Apache peoples.

When the Spanish entered New Mexico, they recorded that the Tewa (a pueblo group) referred to one of the neighboring tribes as Navahú in reference to large areas of cultivated lands. This is in reference to the Navajo practice of dry-farming in arroyos and cañadas. The Tewa also referred to these newcomers as Apachü, which means strangers and enemies. The Spanish would later refer to these people as Apache de Navajó meaning the Apaches with the great planted fields.

There are six major divisions of the Apache: the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache.

The Chiricahua Apache were in the mountains of southeastern Arizona. The term “Chiricahua” was coined by an anthropologist to refer to the autonomous tribes living in or near the Chiricahua Mountains. Tribal historian Michael Darrow reports that there were four independent political units in this area: Chíhéne, Chokonene, Bidánku, and Ndé’ndaí.

Like many other Indian tribes, there was no single overall Chiricahua leader: each of the local groups had its own political structure. Historian Robert Utley writes of the Chiricahua in his book A Clash of Cultures: Fort Bowie and the Chiricahua Apaches:  “They felt little tribal consciousness and never came together as a tribe.”

According to anthropologist Norman Bancroft-Hunt in his book North American Indians:  “People were free to follow the leader they chose, with the consequence that Apache bands were small and mobile, composed of people with a strong sense of independence and individual freedom.”

The lack of a centralized government or single leader created confusion for the United States government. Writing about the Chiricahua Apache, anthropologist Morris Opler, in an article in Anthropology of North American Tribes, reports:  “the Chiricahua found, to their great discomfort, that the white officials assumed what no Apache would admit – that an agreement with the leader was binding upon the whole group.”  Chiricahua leaders led through advice, persuasion, and example. They served as leaders only as long as their leadership proved successful.

While many non-Apache scholars and popular writers have labeled the Apache as a fierce, war-like people, in actuality warfare was not glorified as it was in some other culture areas. Chiricahua Apache tribal historian Michael Darrow, in a chapter in We, The People: Of Earth and Elders—Volume II, writes:  “In our tribe we don’t have any military societies or Dog Soldiers like the Plains Indians. We didn’t have anything vaguely resembling that. In our tribe you didn’t attain special status by participating in something like that.”  Darrow also writes:  “In our tribe, you didn’t get an eagle feather for each enemy smacked with a coup stick or killed. You didn’t get awards for battle accomplishments because they generally avoided fighting as much as possible.”

The Experiment:

In 1872, General Oliver Otis Howard agreed to attempt to contact Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise without a military escort. Howard and four others ignited a ring of five fires to show that five men had come in peace. Eventually two boys appeared at the Americans’ camp and led them to a secluded mountain valley containing an Apache camp. That evening, Cochise appeared in the camp.

Howard and Cochise bargained for ten days. Howard wanted the Apache to settle on a reservation on the Rio Grande, but Cochise asked to keep the Chiricahua homeland at Apache Pass. Historian Robert Utley reports:  “Eventually Howard bowed to Cochise’s wish to remain in his home country and proposed a reservation embracing a large part of the Chiricahua Mountains and the adjoining Sulphur Springs and San Simon Valleys.”  Under the agreement, the Chiricahua were to police themselves without army supervision.

Many high-ranking members of the U.S. Army, including Generals Crook and Schofield, were not happy with the agreement. In The Indian Historian D.C. Cole writes:  “The military was particularly incensed by the exemption of the reservation from military supervision.”

However, the Department of the Interior confirmed the site and the reservation was established by Presidential Executive Order. Without any major interference from the federal government, the Chiricahua peacefully governed themselves on their reservation.

In 1874, Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise died. His body was prepared in a traditional way and then taken to a deep fissure where it was lowered into the depths. His favorite horse and dog were killed and were also buried in the fissure. Taza, the son of Cochise, was selected by the Chiricahua to become their new chief. Historian Robert Utley reports:  “But Taza lacked his father’s force and vision, and increasingly the Chiricahuas drifted without the strong leadership on which the outcome of the reservation experiment depended.”

In 1875, the Chiricahua Apache were accused of a number of raids. D.C. Cole writes:  “The military accused the reservation Apache of raids against travelers, which were in reality the work of Cochise County white outlaws. The Mexican authorities protested Chiricahua raids in Sonora, which were in all probability the work of Mexican-based Apache of the Sierra Madres.”

In response, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs suspended services to the reservation. Investigations later cleared the Chiricahua of all charges, but the investigators recommended the removal of the Chiricahua to the San Carlos reservation in Arizona or to New Mexico in order to prevent any future incidents.

In 1876, two non-Indian whiskey sellers were illegally selling whiskey on the Chiricahua Apache reservation when they were killed by the Chiricahua. In response, and ignoring the fact that the incident was caused by non-Indians engaging in illegal activities, the Americans used this as an excuse to seize the reservation and move the Chiricahua to the San Carlos reservation. The Chiricahua reservation was abolished by Presidential Executive Order. D.C. Cole writes:  “Ended, perhaps forever, was Apache faith in the honor and good intentions of the United States government. Also gone was a United States sanctioned experiment in Apache self-government by means and upon lands of their own choosing.”

The experiment in Chiricahua self-government ended as the Chiricahua bands were removed to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The people had planted a great deal of corn which they were forced to abandon. After they moved, their houses were burned and their corn fields destroyed.

Not all of the Chiricahua followed Taza to San Carlos. A number of them joined the Nednhi Chiricahua under the leadership of Juh in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Among those who went to Mexico is Geronimo.  From here the Apache began a series of raids on American settlements in Arizona and New Mexico.

After moving to the San Carlos Reservation, Taza and several others joined an entourage organized by the Indian agent for the reservation which toured in several Eastern cities and put on a scripted “wild west show.” The show, however, was not successful and stopped performing after Cincinnati.

Ancient America: Coastal Oregon, 13,000 to 7,500 Years Ago

The Oregon coast is a part of the larger Northwest Coast culture area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. The cultures along this coastal ecotone (an area between two biomes) share a number of common features, including a subsistence pattern which is centered on sea and littoral (shore, estuary, and headlands) environments. In the northern portion of this culture area (the Alaska Panhandle and British Columbia), the coastline is highly convoluted with many offshore islands and is bordered with steep, high mountains. The coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, on the other hand are relatively straight which means they are unprotected and pummeled by unimpeded ocean waves.

One of the current hypotheses for the peopling of the Americas, known as the Coastal Migration Hypothesis, envisions early migrations to the Americas by coastal travelers using boats. It is well known that ancient people have been using boats of some kind for a long time. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “Sea voyages date far back into antiquity. People reached Australia from Indonesia more than 40,000 years ago, and Japanese archaeologists have found obsidian brought to Honshu nearly 35,000 years ago from a small island 20 miles distant.”

The Coastal Migration Hypothesis suggests that archaeologists should expect to find the earliest evidence of the settlement of what is now Oregon along the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, there is little archaeological data along the Oregon coast to substantiate this hypothesis.

Archaeological surveys of early sites along the Oregon coast have yielded very little data regarding human habitation in this area prior to 4,000 years ago. Coastal sites tend to be rare because of two factors of physical geography. First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that sea levels have been rising, particularly over the past 18,000 years. During the last ice age when humans would have been first entering the area, the sea levels were 100 meters (330 feet) lower than they are today. Along the Oregon coast, this means that vast stretches of the continental shelf would have been exposed and the actual coast line would have been several kilometers to the west of its current positions. The camp sites and villages used by the early people are thus underwater today.

A second factor is the nature of the Oregon coast line. It is constantly changing due to the impact of tides and high-energy waves, tectonic uplift, erosion, and landslides. In other words, even more recent evidence of human use is being destroyed by natural forces.

While early archaeological sites are rare on the Oregon coast, data from the north and from the south strongly suggests that this area must have been inhabited. To the north, people were using On-Your-Knees Cave (49PET408) on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island by about 12,000 years ago. The people were engaged in a coastal marine subsistence pattern which includes fishing and the gathering of shellfish. It is also clear that they were using watercraft and were engaged in long-distance trade.

The human remains in On-Your-Knees Cave have DNA which belongs to the D4h3 haplogroup. Members this haplogroup are found exclusively on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Chile.

About the same time people were occupying the coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia, they were also using Daisy Cave in California’s Channel Islands. One again, the archaeological data shows a pattern of using marine resources and knowledge of watercraft.

With people using watercraft living to both the north and the south of the Oregon coast during the period of the Terminal Pleitocene/Early Holocene (13,000 to 7,500 years ago), we would expect human occupation of the Oregon coast during this time. The actual physical data from the archaeological record for this period is, however, a bit scanty.

At the Indian Sands site (35CU67), there was a scatter of chipped stone artifacts and some burned and broken mussel shells which dated to 12,300 to 8,600 years ago.

At the Neptune State Park site (35LA3) there are a few lithic flakes which were dated to about 9,330 years ago.

The Tahkenitch Landing site (35DO130) has a few stone stools that date to 8,900 to 7,600 years ago. At this time Tahkenitch Lake was an estuary open to the ocean.

Archaeologists Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, summarize the early occupation of the Oregon coast this way:  “The early Holocene culture record to the Oregon coast remains impoverished, and while we can anticipate occasional new evidence of great age, the reality is that the early record will never be robust, given the geological history of Oregon’s Pacific coast.”