The gourd rattle in the Shawnee exhibit is a contemporary piece that is for display purposes only.
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.
Language Manager Eric Wensman explains, “Some Shawnees joined the church because it was a safer way to heal and worship. Traditional medicines and plants can be very powerful. Extensive knowledge is required to harvest, process, and use plants and other medicinal materials. With European and American domination some our traditional knowledge has been lost and people were concerned about using those medicines. Taking of the peyote sacrament replaced customary ways of healing and worshiping.”
“It is important to understand that our traditional dances and ceremonies have not only been suppressed, but literally prohibited by federal laws and policies. I found a letter from the Office of Indian Affairs in 1923 stating that our dances were ‘useless’ and these ‘harmful performances’ should be stopped. If we didn’t give them up they would act against us. It was not until 1978 with the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act that Native Americans had religious freedom.”