A Shawnee Tribe Cultural Center Installation
The exhibit visually tells the story of the Shawnee people through objects that represent essential aspects of Shawnee life - both today and throughout history.
In the gallery, the installation displays no written information. Shawnee language, like many indigenous languages, is not traditionally a written language. History and ways of life are deeply rooted in oral tradition, with knowledge being shared and sustained by people.
While much has been written about Shawnee culture, much of the information is incomplete. From sacred ceremonies to family stories, the exhibit supports Shawnee people in telling their own story. The exhibit invites conversation and investigations about Shawnee culture, with consideration for different ways of learning, sharing and preserving.
Shawnee Dress/Calico Dress
This is an example of a traditional Shawnee dress, made out of calico cotton. Historic Shawnee Dresses would have had larger flowers than what is currently available and used now. The dress is always worn with an apron and the ribbons on the dress and apron designate the age of the wearer. As a young person you would only wear one ribbon, as a young girl you would wear two, as a woman you would wear three, and as an elder you would wear four ribbons on your dress.
At the time of planting, and beginning in conjunction with the Spring Bread Dance, a series of women-against-men ceremonial ball games are played at the field adjacent to the dance grounds. First, bets are taken, often in the form of ribbons. Ribbons are traditionally a valued cultural possession. Ribbons are used to decorate traditional clothing and regalia. Each person’s bet (ribbon) is knotted to a comparable bet from the opposite sex. The paired bets are tied to a long string and suspended between two poles.
We know that the earliest examples such as sashes, garters bags, and straps that were collected from the Ohio River Valley American Indian communities such as the Shawnee were all done in this technique. Almost all those examples date to the 18th century, but prior to contact we have examples of material or cloth that were made using the same technique. The items come from excavations in the Ohio River Valley rock shelters. The materials that those items were made of were most likely from dogbane, milkweed, stinging nettles, or possibly basswood bark.
Storage or Cooking Pot
Frogs, snakes, and waves adorn many Late Fort Ancient vessels. Scholar now believe that Native peoples associated these animals with the Beneath World, the watery base that supports the Middle World occupied by humanity. Beings of extraordinary power, such as the Great Horned Serpent, adorn their pottery because they successfully travel on both water and land, between the worlds of the multi-layered cosmos.
Gourd rattles have been used at the White Oak ceremonial grounds for over a hundred and fifty years. They are also used in the Native American Church, along with the water drum to accompany songs during the all-night peyote ceremony. Tribal members from many different nations are members of the Native American Church, including Shawnees.
The male leader calls out “Nikanikata (You lead it)” and the dance leader begins to circle the fire and sing. Dancers file in behind the lead singer. Males sing responses while women begin to use their stomp cans. For Shawnees, Nikanikawe (lead dance or stomp dance) is a social dance inherited from Southeastern tribes. Today, Shawnees stomp dance after their ceremonial dances, dancing all night until morning.
Previously on View
Corn Grinder (pestle and mortar)
“The corn grinder was at least a hundred years old when my daddy, William Ellick, inherited it in 1972. It belonged to my grandmother Julia Dick,” Agnes Sappington explains. “It was used for ceremonies at White Oak. Corn would be dried and ground up for flour. It must have taken all day. I didn’t go to the ceremonial grounds as a kid, but I bet they would have put me to work!”
“This is an atypical drumstick for Shawnee, but it is one that means a lot to me," explains Ben Barnes. “Not only is there a lot of symbolism, but carving the stick helped me keep it together. I lost a house in the flood of 2007. I had this beautiful piece of walnut a friend had given me and I started carving..."
Rodeos are a multi-generation venture for the Lewis family. “Joe Lewis, my grandpa, was just an old cowboy,” Harley Lewis reminisces. “He didn’t have a lot of things. He had his Stetsons and spurs in the corner of the kitchen. That’s why I cherish his spurs so much..."