I’ve been going crazy all evening looking for native people in the Ohio River Valley.
As I prepare for our fieldwork on the Ohio River, I am looking for contacts who can point me in the direction of interesting people to talk with about river culture and river communities. With gentrification much in evidence at the American riverside, we have to put particular effort into identifying communities of color, of native people, of seniors, of people enduring poverty or homelessness. We work months ahead of time to connect with churches and tribal governments, senior and homeless advocates. This broadens the scope of the project and the wider relevance of the stories we hear.
Googling for “tribe”, “tribal headquarters”, “Indian reservation”, “native American”, and even “Indian casino” which worked on the Upper Mississippi and Sacramento Rivers, turns up nothing. Well, nothing except Tribe 365 Yoga, Iron Tribe Fitness, and a bunch of East Indian restaurants.
Looking for specific tribal groups is no help either. Shawnee, Lenape, Miami, Mingo, Piankeshaw, Monongahela, Mosopelea, Sappony, Monacan all sound familiar because the landscape is littered with the names of the people that were removed from the area — part of the habit of naming places for the thing that they displaced (Sylvan Acres Housing Community, anyone?).
Digging deeper, all of the native tribes along the Ohio River were displaced during the Indian Removals from 1830 to 1842. I knew this story and even interviewed Dakota and Cherokee people whose forebears were forcibly removed and who had since quietly returned to their homeland. But coming from the West, this is always still a surprise.
Indian Removal was a hardline policy put in place by the newly elected Andrew Jackson that forced removal of all tribes east of the Mississippi River to reservations in Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Legally, the removals were executed as (coerced) land trade treaties, where native people signed away their ancestral homeland for undesirable land in the far west.
The forced migrations were devastating to tribal culture and the forced travel resulted in thousands dead in the grueling summer heat and bone-chilling winter cold, known by Cherokee people as the Trail of Tears.
But here’s why I am not finding native presence along the Ohio River. Looking at it state by state we’ll be passing through:
Other Indian tribes who migrated into Pennsylvania after Europeans arrived included:
- The Nanticoke tribe
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Pennsylvania today.
Most Native Americans were forced to leave Pennsylvania during the 1700’s, when eastern tribes were being displaced by colonial expansion. These tribes are not extinct, but except for the descendants of Pennsylvania Indians who assimilated into white society, they do not live in Pennsylvania anymore. Most tribes that once were native to Pennsylvania ended up on Indian reservations in Oklahoma.
Other Indian tribes who migrated into Ohio after Europeans arrived included:
- The Delaware tribe
- The Miami tribe
- The Ottawa tribe
- The Ohio Seneca tribe (Mingo)
- The Wyandot tribe
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Ohio today.
Most Native Americans were forced to leave Ohio during the Indian Removals of the 1800’s. These tribes are not extinct, but except for the descendants of Ohio Indians who escaped from Removal, they do not live in Ohio anymore. They were moved to Indian reservations in Oklahoma instead.
Other Indian tribes who migrated into West Virginia after Europeans arrived included:
- The Iroquois tribes (Mingo)
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in West Virginia today.
Due to discrimination and the Indian Removals of the 1800’s, most Native Americans in West Virginia either hid their Native heritage or were relocated to Oklahoma or other western states. There are still Shawnee and Cherokee descendants in West Virginia, but the majority of Shawnee and Cherokee people live in states other than West Virginia today.
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Kentucky today.
Most Native Americans were forced to leave Kentucky during the Indian Removals of the 1800’s. These tribes are not extinct, but except for the descendants of Kentucky Indians who escaped from Removal, they do not live in Kentucky anymore. They were moved to Indian reservations in Oklahoma instead. If you click on the link for each tribe above, you can find more information about them.
Other Indian tribes who migrated into or through Indiana after Europeans arrived:
- The Lenape/Delaware Indians
- The Iroquois Indians (Seneca and Cayuga)
- The Kickapoo Indians
- The Muncie Indians
- The Nanticoke Indians
- The Potawatomi Indians
- The Wyandot Indians
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes based in Indiana today.
Most Native Americans were forced to leave Indiana during the Indian Removals of the 1800’s. These tribes are not extinct, but except for the descendants of Indiana Indians who escaped from Removal, they do not live in Indiana anymore. They were moved to Indian reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma instead.
Other Indian tribes that migrated into Illinois after Europeans arrived:
- The Delaware tribe
- The Kickapoo tribe
- The Ottawa tribe
- The Potawatomi tribe
- The Sac and Fox tribes
- The Wyandot tribe
There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Illinois today.
The Indian tribes of Illinois are not extinct, but like many other native tribes, they were forced to move to Indian reservations in Oklahoma by the American government.
Native people are not gone. Though they endured displacement, European disease, war, massacres, attempted genocide, broken treaties, forced removals, betrayal, poverty, and destructive government policies from the 19th century to today, their descendants are still here, indeed some are thriving, on and off reservations, throughout the Americas.
I know there are piles of interesting history and photos in every local historical society, and every regional university will have in their special collections, piles of mind-blowing historical documents. But the project is focused on living history, and that means talking face-to-face with people and hearing their stories.
It has always been important to the Secret History project to hear from native people, in their own words, about their lives, their land, and their people. The history of American river people starts with Native American people.
If you know someone who is native in the Ohio River Valley, please tell them about the project. Let them know that we’d love to listen.
Maps and state-by-state info, courtesy of Native Languages of the Americas.