Eastern Shawnee tribe shares history, culture with teens

Written by
Emily Maddern
Advocate Reporter

Chance Wallace, 14, performs a dance Monday for the members of the YES Club. Wallace is a member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and is a fancy dancer, a free spirited dancer who performs a more entertaining dance, rather than a stricter traditional dance. / Jason Lenhart/The Advocate

NEWARK — Members of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma shared their history and culture with local teens Monday afternoon at the Newark YES Club.

The Newark Earthworks Center invited the tribe to Ohio to give tribe members a chance to visit the ancient Indian mounds in Newark and Chillicothe and learn more about their Ohio roots.

“We don’t really know our history and, here in Ohio, this is where our history occurred,” tribe chief Glenna Wallace said.

“We’re here to share our current history — our current living and current practices — and for you to teach us about our Ohio history and what has been preserved of our heritage,” she said.

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe is one of three federally recognized Shawnee tribes that once made up the Shawnee Nation. The tribe originated in Ohio and lived in the state until it was forced to leave under the Indian Removal Act in 1832, when it was relocated to Ottawa County, Okla.

YES Club members listened and asked questions as the tribe shared its history and demonstrated the meaning of tribal symbols and ceremonial costumes. The tribe then invited the YES Club to join them in performing various native social dances, including the stomp dance.

In the stomp dance, female members of the tribe create a drum-like rhythm by wearing shell shakers — canisters filled with pebbles — around their ankles and stomping their feet, while the males sing a traditional song in their native language.

Members of the YES Club joined hands with the tribe, who led them in a circular procession around the club’s backyard to perform the stomp dance.

Tribe member Chance Wallace, 14, said he’s been participating in ceremonial dances for almost his entire life and that it’s important to him to learn about and be involved in his tribe’s culture.

“I think it’s important that we don’t lose that culture because if we lose that culture, our tribes are gone. I really try to spread it around as much as I can, get more people to come and get interested in it because I’m just afraid of losing it,” he said.

Mary Barnes, a 17-year-old member of the tribe, said for her, performing the stomp dance is more about the culture and experience than anything else.

“It makes me feel great that I can be a part of and participate in something like this … It’s a big deal and a great honor,” she said.

Before saying goodbye, YES Club members commemorated the tribe by presenting them with a stone in their rock garden inscribed with a quote from Tecumseh, a Native American leader of the Shawnee: “Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.”

“That quote matches exactly what we try to do as a club and as a family, to better ourselves and try to make every day worth it,” Melissa Miller, high school education coordinator for the YES Club, said.

Miller said the rock garden was designed to give the teens a place to honor the important people in their lives whom they have lost.

“To see (the kids) so open and willing to give such a special part of the YES Club to (the Shawnee) is so cool. It’s moments like that that make you proud to work here,” Miller said.