The Forgotten History of Ohio’s Indigenous Peoples - Midstory (2022)

In a landmark case in July of 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that about half of Oklahoma is Native American land, a decision that could have major implications for current and future litigation. In another victory for indigenous communities the same year, a judge halted progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline, long protested by the nearby Standing Rock Sioux community. While most major events and conversations involving native communities remain centered in Western states, many of these communities have roots elsewhere. Though historically forced to relocate or migrate West, tribes called Northwest Ohio their home long before European settlers did.

“Ohio was the original ‘Indian territory’ of the U.S. in the 1790s. We had reservations, for a brief time,” Dr. Barbara Mann, author and professor at the University of Toledo, said in an email. Mann has published extensively, noting that as she went into academia, the Ohio Indigenous elders gave her the task of “setting the record straight.”

Along with the formation and gradual expansion of the United States came the strategies of creating oftentimes-dishonest “Indian treaties” to claim Ohio for settlers. Such treaties include the Fort Stanwix Treaty, Fort McIntosh Treaty, the Mouth of the Great Miami Treaty and the Fort Harmar Treaty, which applied pressure to the Union of Ohio Natives, which allowed Indigenous peoples to call Ohio their territory. The Greenville Treaty, however, granted a collective of European settlers permission to claim Ohio as farmland. Amidst turmoil and expansion with the succession of wars and the American Revolution from 1747 to 1794, many settlers took the opportunity to obtain cheap and available land, seeking after their own prosperity. From that point on, the Indigenous communities in Ohio either left or remained unrecognized.

While in recorded history these treaties often appear constructive and mutually beneficial, in reality, they caused serious problems for the Indigenous communities of the time: deceitful federal agents negotiated unfair treaties, translators purposefully miscommunicated the contents of the treaties and some Natives were forced to sign under fear for their lives.

This series of treaties led to the Ohio Removal between ca. 1840-1845. But while most history books stop here, the true story is a bit more complicated.

“A tremendous number of Indigenous people remained in Ohio after Removal. Another thing little known by the general public is that people flatly refused to go west,” Dr. Mann said. “The government simply declared those people no longer Indian.”

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In those cases, the United States government refused to record someone’s existence or even deliberately misrecorded it.

“The upshot of record-falsification on identities is that about one-half of all living Indigenous Americans in the U.S. do not have identity cards issued by the U.S. government. Because the Ohio reservations were quickly taken away, and the government declared holdouts in Ohio no longer Indian, the official story is that ‘there are no Indians in Ohio’ but that is bunk. This problem leads to very painful fights between ‘enrolled’ and non-treaty peoples,” Dr. Mann said.

While Ohio may not be at the forefront of conversations today around Indigenous peoples and land ownership, a closer look reveals a past and arguably even a present fraught with struggle and hardship but also rich with heritage and culture. Below is compiled information on some of the nations known to have occupied what is now known as Ohio, and more specifically, the Toledo region.

The Forgotten History of Ohio’s Indigenous Peoples - Midstory (1)

Native Ohio Nations

The original inhabitants of Ohio consisted primarily of three nations: the Erie, Kickapoo and Shawnee, the first two both residing in areas near modern-day Toledo.

The Kickapoo Tribe*

The Kickapoo tribe branched out from a part of the Shawnee tribe, and linguists speculate that the word “Kickapoo” is a reinterpretation of the Shawnee word for “wanderers.” Speaking in a tonal language similar to Algonquian, the Kickapoo also used a distinct lingual code called “whistle speech” to communicate simple statements—today, considered a lost art. The Kickapoo were somewhat pacifistic, wanting neither to fight in wars nor surrender to invaders. They refused to assimilate to colonization when European settlers first arrived, but the settlers later forced the Kickapoo to relocate further south and out of Ohio. The Kickapoo soon immigrated to reservations located in other states.

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Today, the Kickapoo community is largely accounted for in 3 states—Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas—, although there is a smaller community situated in Coahuila, Mexico. About 3,000 Kickapoo live in this community, with roughly 800 people who speak the native language. Revitalization efforts are continuing in the modern Kickapoo communities to teach the younger generations, but the language remains endangered in America.

The Erie Tribe

The Erie tribe settled lakeside in Northern Ohio, giving way for European settlers to name Lake Erie after them. Erie tribal history is not well recorded, but their language bears distinct similarities to those of the Iroquois and Seneca tribes. Like other tribes in the area, they were known as an agrarian community and natural enemies to the Iroquois over land disputes. The Erie tribe is no longer around after being defeated in war by the Iroquois Confederacy in 1654. Survivors merged with the Huron-Wyandot nation or were captured by the Iroquois and Seneca tribes.

Today, possible Erie descendants have blended with several other tribes, like the Iroquois, Huron-Wyandot or Seneca.

The Shawnee and Ohio Valley tribes

With noted ancestry from the Lenape (Delaware) tribe, the Shawnee were commonly known to migrate around Ohio at will. Archaeologists have also found evidence of villages in New York, Illinois and Georgia. In the mid-1600s, the Shawnee also had to travel due to pressure from the Iroquois and American settlers. With other Ohio Valley tribes in parts of the southern region also under stress from the Iroquois Confederacy and European-American colonization, Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa tried to unite eastern tribes under a movement called the Pan-Indian Unity in the early 1800s. The alliance allowed the tribes to band together to fight against colonization until it was dissipated by Americans shortly after Tecumseh was defeated in the Battle of Thames in 1813. This forced the Shawnee tribe to relocate to Oklahoma.

Today, the Shawnee are found in three federally recognized communities in Oklahoma: the Absentee Shawnee, the Eastern Shawnee and the Shawnee tribe.

Migrated Tribes

According to the Greenville Treaty, Ohio was considered “original Indian Territory” to the U.S. in the 1790s. When other Indigenous nations were forced into conflict or relocation, Ohio was one of the areas to which they migrated.

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Many Native American descendants still living in Ohio today follow ancestry from these migrated tribes. The main migrated tribes include the Lenape (Delaware), Miami, Ottawa, Seneca and Wyandot. Several other tribes migrated in and out of Ohio, but these five represent the greatest share of the Indigenous population.

The two tribes that migrated toward the present-day Toledo region were the Ottawa and Seneca. The Ottawa tribe lived by lakes and rivers and were known as traders. Ottawa tribes originally migrated to Ohio due to conflicts with the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Seneca lived in longhouses along riversides and by the lake, similar to the Ottawa. Although fierce and skilled in warfare, the Seneca also had a pronounced flair for diplomacy. Eventually they joined the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Forgotten History of Ohio’s Indigenous Peoples - Midstory (2)

Toward the middle and eastern borders of Ohio were the Wyandot and Lenape tribes, and to the south was the Miami tribe.

The Wyandot used a language that was closely related to Iroquois and spread their ancestry through several branches. Outer parts of the Wyandot community, who did not want to be a part of the Iroquois Confederacy, fought in many conflicts and were eventually defeated. Survivors of the conflicts branched off to create a new tribal identity called the Wendat tribe. After various land invasions, cattle theft and killed leaders, the Wyandot had limited options and were forced to depend on the American government for support, relocating out of Ohio.

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The Lenape, also known as the Delaware tribe, lived in an area they called Lenapehoking, which means “Land of the Lenape.” This land was vast and included all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern New York, northern Delaware and a small section of southeastern Connecticut. Due to spread of disease and hostile conflicts over trading and hunting because of the Europeans, some Lenape disbursed and left Lenapehoking, thus migrating to Ohio.

The Miami tribe called themselves the Myaamia, which translates to “the downstream people,” and were excellent hunters of white-tailed deer. The Myaamia endured hardships of disease, war and colonization, as well, and were eventually forced to relocate under the Greenville Treaty of 1818.

Eventually, all of the five tribes that migrated to Ohio were forced into relocation elsewhere. Some descendants branched off and lived off-site from their communities, which ensured that some presence would remain in Ohio. Some founded nations are federally recognized communities on reservations in places like Oklahoma, Kansas, Mexico and Canada. Meanwhile, others are banding together to become federally recognized and receive government assistance and to keep their smaller communities alive.

Currently, there are no federally recognized tribal communities or nations in Ohio, but there are non-federally funded communities trying to stay connected to their ancestry and become federally recognized, such as the Munsee Delaware Indian Nation of Ohio and the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band. Some Ohio universities are also putting out statements to acknowledge and show respect for the people who inhabited this land long before European settlers did. By understanding our region’s past and educating ourselves on the history of who lived here before colonization, we recognize and re-open the lost histories and stories that otherwise fall to threaten to be whitewashed or erased completely.

Visit some of the communities at their official websites:
Miami Tribe of Oklahoma
Miami Tribe of Indiana
Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma
Seneca Nation of Indians
Wyandot Nation of Kansas
Wyandotte Nation

*Utilization of the terms ‘tribe’ and ‘nation’ have been under debate since the early 19th century. “Tribes” refer to “any group that derives from a common ancestor” whereas “nation” refers to “a body of people associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or possess a government of its own.” Learn more here.

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John Harvey and Cielle Waters-Umfleet contributed to this article.

This article was updated on 07/20/20 to reflect additional insight from Dr. Barbara Mann.

FAQs

What happened to Ohio's native tribes? ›

In Ohio, the last of the prehistoric Indians, the Erie and the Fort Ancient people, were destroyed or driven away by the Iroquois about 1655. Some ethnologists believe the Shawnee descended from the Fort Ancient people. The Shawnees were wanderers, who lived in many places in the south.

What indigenous tribes lived in Ohio? ›

From these missionaries, historians know that six major groups settled in Ohio and its neighboring states: the Shawnee (in southern Ohio), Seneca-Cayuga (in central and northwest Ohio), Lenape (in eastern Ohio), Wyandot (in northern Ohio), Ottawa (in northwest Ohio), and Myaamia (in western Ohio).

Did the Trail of Tears Go through Ohio? ›

The Cherokees' overland route ran from southeastern Tennessee into southwestern Kentucky. They then crossed the Ohio River into southern Illinois and across the Mississippi River, through southern Missouri and finally to Indian Territory.

Who were the original inhabitants of Ohio? ›

The original inhabitants of Ohio consisted primarily of three nations: the Erie, Kickapoo and Shawnee, the first two both residing in areas near modern-day Toledo.

What was the last Indian tribe to leave Ohio? ›

The Wyandot were the last American Indian group to formally leave Ohio (although it should be noted that at least some members of almost all American Indian peoples with historic ties to Ohio remained in the state during the period of removal.) After the Civil War, the Ohio Wyandot were removed to Oklahoma.

What part of Ohio did prehistoric Indians live in? ›

During the Late Prehistoric Period, several distinctive cultures arose in different parts of Ohio: the Fort Ancient culture in central and southern Ohio, Sandusky culture in northwestern Ohio, Whittlesey culture in northeastern Ohio, and the Monongahela culture in eastern Ohio.

What happened to the Seneca tribe? ›

They were removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s. Many Seneca and other Iroquois migrated into Canada during and after the Revolutionary War, where the Crown gave them land in compensation for what was lost in their traditional territories.

What indigenous land is Ohio on? ›

The land that The Ohio State University occupies is the ancestral and contemporary territory of the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, Peoria, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ojibwe, and Cherokee peoples. The name “Ohio” itself is derived from the Iroquois “ohi:yo'” – the great river.

What is a Blue Mingo? ›

In the 17th century, the terms Minqua or Minquaa were used interchangeably to refer to the five nations of the Iroquois League and to the Susquehannock, another Iroquoian-speaking people. The Mingo had a bad reputation and were sometimes called "Blue Mingo" or "Black Mingo" for their misdeeds.

What was the most common native American tribe in Ohio? ›

1. The Shawnee Tribe. The Shawnee Tribe was one of the largest tribes in Ohio. It's believed that the Shawnee were ancestors of the Fort Ancient peoples who were in Ohio before the Iroquois came, tracing back to around the 1600s.

Were there dogs on the Trail of Tears? ›

The Indians had all stepped into the bark which was to carry them across, but their dogs remained upon the bank. As soon as these animals perceived that their masters were finally leaving the shore, they set up a dismal howl, and, plunging all together into the icy waters of the Mississippi, they swam after the boat.

Does Ohio have an Indian reservation? ›

Currently there are no federally-recognized reservations in Ohio.

When did Indians leave Ohio? ›

The last Indians in Ohio were removed in 1843 via Treaty with the Wyandots (1842) by which the reservation at Upper Sandusky was ceded to the United States, and the Wyandots relocated to Oklahoma in 1843.

How long ago were Indians in Ohio? ›

Prehistoric Ohioans

They came to our state more than 12,000 years ago. Some believe they crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and migrated south. Prehistoric Ohioans looks at the Paleo, Archaic, Adena, Hopewell, Whittlesey and Fort Ancient peoples.

Is Ohio an Indian name? ›

OHIO: Iroquois Indian word meaning the river of the same name. "beautiful river," taken from the river of the same name. OKLAHOMA: Choctaw Indian word meaning “red people."

Why did the Wyandot Indians come to Ohio? ›

The Wyandots' ancestral homeland is considered to be near an inlet of Lake Huron in Canada. (Some say Huron is the French word for Wyandot.) The tribe later dispersed due to war with the Iroquois and disease, one group traveling east to Quebec and the other south to Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, according to wyandot.org.

Are there any Wyandot Indians left? ›

In 1867, after the American Civil War, additional members were removed from the Midwest to Indian Territory. Today more than 4,000 Wyandot can be found in eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma.

When did the Wyandot Indians leave Ohio? ›

In 1843 the government sent them off to a reservation in Kansas. They were the last Indian Nation to leave Ohio although there were numbers of individual Wyandots throughout the state who remained here the rest of their lives.

How old are arrowheads found in Ohio? ›

Ohio's earliest inhabitants left behind traces of their existence all along the beautiful river. Archaeological digs at Beaver Creek State Park have uncovered arrowheads, pottery and knives dating back to the Clovis culture – some 10,000 years ago.

What was the name of the several tribes of Native Americans in the Ohio Valley that joined to form an association in response to European colonization? ›

The Iroquois Confederacy during the American Revolution and beyond.

Did Mohicans live in Ohio? ›

The Mohican River was historically known as "Mohiccan John Creek" or "Mohickin Johns River", among other variations. A number of Mohicans emigrated from Connecticut to Ohio in 1762, under the guidance of their Chief, Mohican John.

Why are the Seneca Indians called Seneca? ›

The Senecas believed that they broke out of the earth at a great, treeless mountain at the head of Canandaigua Lake. They were preceded in their occupancy of the country by a race of "civil, enterprising and industrious people." Their name was derived from this hill.

When did the Seneca leave Ohio? ›

In 1831, the Seneca -- along with the Ohio Seneca-Cayuga and the Cayuga -- were forced to leave their flourishing lands in Western Ohio under U.S. Indian Removal policy. All three nations were resettled on a joint reservation in Kansas; and were eventually removed again to Oklahoma.

What did the Seneca call themselves? ›

In their own language, the Senecas call themselves Onandowaga, which means "people of the mountain."

Were there Blackfoot Indians in Ohio? ›

A Southeastern Siouan Blackfoot Nation

Anthropologists generally agree to on a great Siouan occupation of the Ohio lands. At the beginning of historic time, the great Ohio Valley had been emptied by Iroquois invaders.

Where did Mingo Indians live? ›

The Mingo were not actually an Indian tribe, but a multi-cultural group of Indians that established several communities within present-day West Virginia. They lacked a central government and, like all other Indians within the region at that time, were subject to the control of the Iroquois Confederacy.

What is the oldest Native American tribe? ›

The Hopi Indians are the oldest Native American tribe in the World. Just like the Ancient… | Native american peoples, Native american culture, Native american women.

What does Mingo mean? ›

The Mingo are an Iroquoian group of Native Americans made up of peoples who migrated west to the Ohio Country in the mid-eighteenth century. Anglo-Americans called these migrants mingos, a corruption of mingwe, an Eastern Algonquian name for Iroquoian-language groups in general.

What is Mingo short for? ›

Spanish and Italian: from a short form of the Spanish personal name Domingo .

Was there a real Mingo? ›

Mingo was named after the Mingo Indian Tribe, also known as the Iroquois Indians. The CCAWV states that the Mingo Indians were not actually a tribe, but a multi-cultural group of Indians that established several communities throughout the state.

What happened to the Seneca tribe? ›

They were removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s. Many Seneca and other Iroquois migrated into Canada during and after the Revolutionary War, where the Crown gave them land in compensation for what was lost in their traditional territories.

What happened to the Erie tribe? ›

Their nation was decimated in the mid-17th century by five years of prolonged warfare with the powerful neighboring Iroquois for helping the Huron in the Beaver Wars for control of the fur trade.

What happened to the Miami Tribe? ›

In 1818, the United States forced the Miami to give up their last reservation in Ohio. Many of the displaced Ohio Miami settled in Indiana, but, once more, the U.S. federal government removed some of them to Kansas during the 1850s, while others were permitted to remain in Indiana.

Is there any Indian reservations in Ohio? ›

Currently there are no federally-recognized reservations in Ohio.

Why are the Seneca Indians called Seneca? ›

The Senecas believed that they broke out of the earth at a great, treeless mountain at the head of Canandaigua Lake. They were preceded in their occupancy of the country by a race of "civil, enterprising and industrious people." Their name was derived from this hill.

When did the Seneca leave Ohio? ›

In 1831, the Seneca -- along with the Ohio Seneca-Cayuga and the Cayuga -- were forced to leave their flourishing lands in Western Ohio under U.S. Indian Removal policy. All three nations were resettled on a joint reservation in Kansas; and were eventually removed again to Oklahoma.

What did the Seneca call themselves? ›

In their own language, the Senecas call themselves Onandowaga, which means "people of the mountain."

What happened to the Kaskaskia tribe? ›

The Kaskaskia moved from Kansas to Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) as members of the Confederated Peoria in 1867. Today their descendants are counted among the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.

Are there any Erie Indians left? ›

The Erie are a no-longer-extant American Indian tribe whose descendants may be included among today's Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma. The Erie were an obscure group that lived south of Lake Erie during the 1600s. No known European visited an Erie village, and the tribe's language was not recorded.

What happened to the Susquehannocks? ›

Epidemics steadily reduced their number (estimated to have been about 5,000 in 1600), and in 1763 many of the remaining Susquehannock were massacred by whites inflamed by accounts of an Indian war on the Pennsylvania frontier, several hundred miles away.

How many Miami Indians were there? ›

The population of the Miami Indians could have been as high as 15,000 in the year 1600, although an estimate by the French in 1717 set it at about 8,000. A malaria epidemic in in the 1720s and 1730s depleted their count to no more than 3,000.

Why did Miami Indians fight the Americans? ›

Explanation: These conflicts were primarily over hunting grounds with members of the Iroquois Nation invading land thought to be under Miami influence. As the Iroquois tribes consolidated their power, they also expanded their shere of influence and upsetting the balance of power in their favor against the Miami.

What makes the Miami Tribe unique? ›

The Miami tribe is known for their quillwork, beadwork, and embroidery. What other Native Americans did the Miami tribe interact with? The Miamis traded with all the other tribes of the Great Lakes region, and sometimes with tribes who lived further away.

What is the Native American name for Ohio? ›

OHIO: Iroquois Indian word meaning the river of the same name. "beautiful river," taken from the river of the same name. OKLAHOMA: Choctaw Indian word meaning “red people."

What indigenous land is Ohio on? ›

The land that The Ohio State University occupies is the ancestral and contemporary territory of the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, Peoria, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ojibwe, and Cherokee peoples. The name “Ohio” itself is derived from the Iroquois “ohi:yo'” – the great river.

Were there Blackfoot Indians in Ohio? ›

A Southeastern Siouan Blackfoot Nation

Anthropologists generally agree to on a great Siouan occupation of the Ohio lands. At the beginning of historic time, the great Ohio Valley had been emptied by Iroquois invaders.

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