Courtesy of Dayton Society of Natural History
A photo from the annual Fort Ancient Gathering in Oregonia, Ohio.

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

Tish Leizens

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.

Dancers, in regalia, at the annual Fort Ancient Celebration: A Gathering of Four Directions.(Courtesy of Dayton Society of Natural History)

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.


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cozadbaptistbuddy's picture
Submitted by cozadbaptistbuddy on
My name is Brenda Pierce Adamson. My grandmother was full Cherokee, and my families came from the Chuck Swan Game Reserve,(Lost Creek) in Tennessee. I have been faithful to go visit the Cherokee Reservation in Cherokee North Carolina since I was a small child. The last few years have been troubling. More and more, NON-Native Americans have invaded the reservation. They dress in clothing they believe looks Native American, and they ask for donations , or let you photograph them for a fee. This makes me furious. There are wonderful Cherokee families, who have allowed themselves to be photographed since the 1940’s . They are the ones who stood outdoors in all kinds of weather to greet people , to teach, educate, and represent their peoples. They were a poor tribe in the 1940’s , the reservation was small and poor. They have built up their reservation , improved their livelihood , and are now somewhat prosperous. So, for me to see NON- Natives on this reservation pretending to be Cherokee , just to make a profit, I want to take up a whip and drive them off. No one wants to suffer the hardships and the humiliations the tribes have suffered, but when the tribes begin to gain in respect, and learn how to make a living , and regain their native pride again, then Outsiders come in, wanting to steal from them. Outsiders, (NON-Native Americans) want to pretend to be from different tribes , so they can take part of any money to be made from photos, so they can have businesses on tribal lands and make great profits from the tourist trade, and now they want to imitate the tribes clothing , and participate in tribal pow- wow’s. I believe the tribes have made enough concessions to NON- Natives. I personally do not like to see NON- Natives dancing at any pow-wow, and if they do not have a card, I would say that they cannot dance. As for how every dancer dresses, I believe he should truly portray the way his tribe dressed. I know some tribes were very colorful and highly decorated and flashy, compared to some tribes that barely wore clothing, but with the world lying and twisting history, it is important that Native Americans from all tribes should dress true to their tribe. Every tribe has a story to tell, in history and in dance, and I would want the truth, and that starts with only blooded true Natives dancing the dances of their people. I have always had the deepest love, respect, and pride in the Cherokee Nation, and it enrages me to see NON-Natives, after years of persecution and poverty and death, now want to claim to be a Native.