The Culture Of The Shawnee Indian Tribe

Learn about the history, culture, way of life and current situation of the Shawness Indian tribe.

The Shawnee Indians originally inhabited areas around what is now Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In the late 17th Century, however, the were invaded by their traditional enemy, the Iroquois and driven from their lands. They were driven into South Carolina, eastern Pennsylvania and southern Illinois. With the coming of the white man the Shawnee were again forced to move from their home country. They were gradually driven west, first to Missouri, then Kansas and finally Oklahoma.

The pre European Shawnee population numbered somewhere around the 10,000 mark. The first official census was taken in 1825. It gave the following breakdown:

1400 Shawnee in Missouri

1100 in Louisiana

800 in Ohio.

Today there are three official groups of the Shawnee. The largest group is the Loyal Shawnee. They number about 8,000 individuals. They are, however, recognised by the United States Government as part of the Cherokee nation. The Eastern Shawnee tribe of Oklahoma has about 1,600 members. There are about 2,000 Absentee Shawnee. A fourth group is the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band who number about six hundred. However, they are not recognised by the Federal Government. The total modern Shawnee population, then, stands at about 14,000.

The Shawnee people consider themselves as the descendants of the Delaware, who they consider to be their "˜grandfathers'. They also have strong links with the Kickapoo, with whom they have linguistic ties. The word Shawnee comes from the Algonquin word "˜shawun' which means southerner. It appears that they originally lived to the south of the Kickapoo, in the Ohio Valley. The Shawnee have a strong sense of tribal identity. They have five separate divisions which operate individually. The central chief over all of the divisions could ever only come from one division - that known as Chillicothe. . Headship of the divisions was on the basis of hereditary. The war chief, however, was selected on the basis of skill and merit.

Over the summer months the Shawnee would gather together in large villages. Their homes were long houses covered with bark. Each village would have a large council house which would be used for council meetings and religious ceremonies. Over the winter period, the Shawnee would break into smaller groups and would hunt and camp in search of game. The men were the hunters who sought out deer, rabbits and small game. The women would grow crops and tend the fields. The principle crop was corn. The religious ceremonies of the Shawnee were tied up with the agricultural cycle. In the spring the people celebrated the bread dance which indicated planting time. The ripening of the crops was time for the green corn dance and the harvest was celebrated with the autumn bread dance.

The Shawnee formed an alliance with the French up until around 1740 when British traders began to move into the Ohio Valley region. When the British were forced out of this region, however, the Shawnee returned to the French. Their allegiance switched back to the British when they were victorious in the French - Indian War. The Shawnee subsequently fought alongside the British in the American Revolution. They continued to war against the Americans after the Revolution. The most famous Shawnee Chief was Tecumseh. Other famous leaders include Cornstalk, the Prophet, Blue Jacket and Black Hoof.

The Shawnee believed in a supreme deity who they called Moneto. Moneto would bestow blessings upon all who merited his favor. This Supreme God was seen as a Grandmotherly type figure who was constantly weaving a giant net which she would eventually cast over the earth. Those who had done good would be pulled to the heavens in the net. Those who were left behind would suffer a terrible fate as the earth was consumed in fire.

Among the people, the elders were the ones who trained youngsters in history, culture and traditions. Tribal history was passed in this way from one generation to the next. The Shawnee live by a Golden Rule which is reminiscent of that laid out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It states, "Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him you injure but yourself. But love him, for Moneto loves him as he loves you."

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