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An Imitation Pow Wow? Controversy Haunts Fort Ancient’s Gathering in Ohio

Fort Ancient pow wow in Ohio is still answering questions on the integrity of their educational and intertribal celebration.

On its 25th anniversary this June, a gathering in Oregonia, Ohio, hosted by Fort Ancient, is still answering questions about the integrity of their educational and inter-tribal celebration.

The controversy comes from the misrepresentation of the Shawnee people, and other Native tribes’ cultures. The organizers of the pow wow are not Native American, but at least one dancer, Charles Hodges (head male dancer), is part of a federally recognized tribe, according to Jack Blosser, the site manager at Fort Ancient.

An interview by ICTMN also reveals what seems to be a lack of substantive and continual discussions between leaders of federally recognized tribes and the host of the gathering. “We need to sit down and have a conversation. We have to remove stereotypes. This is not the way Indians are,” said Ben Barnes, second chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Barnes said that he has corresponded with the Ohio Historical Society, a private nonprofit organization that administers the Fort Ancient site, but they have not specifically talked about the pow wow.

In the absence of a conversation between Fort Ancient and tribal leaders, social media is buzzing with public comments on sites like Facebook. “It looks to me that this group is a bunch of wannabees attempting to find any federally recognized tribe for an endorsement. I was born a Choctaw 63 years ago and know what being an Indian is about. I resent you people playing Indian,” James Brown wrote on Fort Ancient’s Facebook page.

“This is a hobbyist gathering, they are claiming to represent the Shawnee and other tribes, but they are dressing wrong and dancing wrong. It has become a full mockery of all Indian people from all tribes,” said Keely Squirrel Denning, a member of the Shawnee tribe, who referenced a Youtube video.

Courtesy of Dayton Society of Natural History

Dancers, in regalia, at the annual Fort Ancient Celebration: A Gathering of Four Directions.

For instance, Denning said, in what is called a “long dance,” a teen female appears wearing a light blue shawl and wearing a Pocahontas Halloween costume and cowboy boots. Some people wear war bonnets and that’s offensive, she said.

“I believe the majority of the Shawnee people, and people from other tribes who are falsely represented, would like to make their presence known at Fort Ancient. Instead of having these people who are not from our cultures, teaching things they believe to be true -- step aside -- and let the real descendants teach the right way. Let us tell our story. Let us dance for their people,” Denning said.

Acknowledging that there are concerns, Fort Ancient on its page in April, said, “While plans for the 2015 event are well under way, we do take these concerns seriously, and have implemented measures to address legitimate concerns.”

Kristy Creel, director of marketing of public relations of Dayton Society of Natural History, the organization that operates Fort Ancient, said, that for this year anyone who has been invited to participate in any official capacity, including vendors, security and presenters have been asked to sign an agreement.

The agreement, according to Creel, is in additional to their normal contract and states that the person involved in the gathering is aware of and will adhere to all applicable federal laws. “All vendors must include signage that indicates their status, and we will be spot-checking vendors to ensure that no false claims are being made,” she said.

Courtesy of Dayton Society of Natural History

Drums entertain crowd at the Fort Ancient Celebration in Ohio.

As for the Shawnee tribes, Creel said Lynn Hanson, their vice president of collections and research, has been working with Barnes and Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma on the issues raised. “[Hanson] has been working to bring representatives to our sites, encouraging individuals to come and simply dance, or participate in a more official capacity. This is something we have not yet reached an agreement on,” Creel said.

“We have not been to this pow wow. The Native tribes in Oklahoma would love to participate,” said Barnes, adding that he is concerned that the public may think of the event as a circus. 

In the meantime, come June 13-14, Fort Ancient will host the 25th Annual Fort Ancient Celebration: A Gathering of Four Directions on their grounds. They said the public is welcome to watch featured performers: flutist Douglas Blue Feather, 100 dancers and three drum groups. Other performers are Randy Church, MC; Charles Keith, head Vet; Charles Hodges, head male; Tammy Woods, head woman; and Southern Singers and Sky Hawk, drums.

“We are simply trying to educate the public about the prehistoric and historic past as best as we can,” Blosser said.