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Shawnee leaders travel from Oklahoma to Ohio to celebrate state park preserving their history

Shawnee and Ohio leaders cut the ribbon to signify the opening of Great Council State Park in Xenia, Ohio, on June 7, 2024.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Shawnee and Ohio leaders perform a ribbon-cutting ceremony to signify the opening of Great Council State Park in Oldtown, Ohio, on June 7, 2024.

After two years of construction, Great Council State Park in Ohio opened to the public, aiming to share the accurate story of the Shawnee people.

Last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at Great Council State Park was the result of an ongoing partnership between three federally recognized Shawnee Tribes, the Oklahoma Department of Natural Resources, and Ohio History Connection.

In the 1830s, the Indian Removal Act allowed the U.S. Government to push the Shawnee out of their homelands in Ohio, eventually forcing them into Oklahoma.

Three Shawnee leaders attended the opening outside of Dayton, Ohio.

Treasurer Joseph Blanchard of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe chose to express themselves in Shawnee during the ceremony.

As Chief Barnes noted, the Shawnee language will not fade on their ancestral homelands; rather, it will continue to be spoken at the state park.

“I wondered how often would Shawnee language be heard after our absence,” Barnes said. “Now you have it for all time, thanks to this museum.”

The park, located about 20 miles outside of Dayton, Ohio, features an interpretive center designed to reflect a 1700s Shawnee longhouse, which was historically used as a gathering place.

“This is the first state park in Ohio dedicated to telling the story of our Native Americans, who truly were the first Ohians,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said during the ceremony.

Inside the 12,000 square-foot interpretive center, visitors can learn more about what life was like prior to colonization as well as contemporary aspects of the tribal nations.

The park sits on the former site of the vacant Tecumseh Motel, which showcased a caricatured cartoon depiction of a Shawnee leader. It was demolished so the park could be built.

As Chief of the Shawnee Tribe Ben Barnes also shared, the center also shatters the stereotype that Indigenous people are of the past.

“And on the walls are photographs, portraits of living Shawnee peoples… in all professions,” Barnes said. “And their portraits are on the wall. And there's snippets of thoughts from those individuals telling their story, what it means to be Shawnee.”

He said it is an important reminder for those who may believe Indigenous people exist only in history books — that’s simply not the case.

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Sarah Liese reports on Indigenous Affairs for KOSU.
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