What first began as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day in 1992, Indigenous Peoples’ Day was created to celebrate and honor Native American history and culture, in an attempt to redirect the attention from celebrating Christopher Columbus, who contributed to the violence and enslavement of Native Americans during the colonization of the Western Hemisphere during the 15th and 16th century.
This past Friday, Oct. 8th, President Joe Biden signed a presidential proclamation, declaring Indigenous Peoples’ Day a national holiday. During this signing, Biden stated that “the contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society” (CNN, 2021).
Indigenous History in Cuyahoga Valley National Park – A Timeline
Although there is no federal recognition of Native American tribal communities or nations in Ohio, Native Americans were the original inhabitants of our land, especially within the Cuyahoga Valley. I’ve compiled a list below which outlines the timeline of when indigenous people inhabited CVNP:
Photo via National Park Service
Paleo-Indian Period (9500 B.C.-8000 B.C.)
Often referred to as some of the “First Ohioans”, this group consisted of mainly hunters and gatherers. They often followed game and gathered throughout the seasons, and never resided in permanent settlements. They were experienced hunters, hunting large, now-extinct game like mammoths and mastodon. There is a well-preserved Paleo-Indian site that was recently discovered in Medina county, called the Paleo Crossing.
Photo via Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
The Archaic Period (8000 B.C. to 500 B.C.)
Also consisting of hunters and gatherers, the archaic people flourished as the Ohio climate was becoming warmer and thicker with forests of maple, oak, and elm trees. They harvested many natural resources, the most important being flint and granite. There are multiple preserved historic sites located in Ohio that can be traced back to the archaic period, but like the Paleo, those during the archaic period moved their settlements constantly, never establishing a permanent residence.
Photo via Ohio History Central
Woodland Period (1000 B.C. – 1000 A.D.)
Often characterized by the increase in ritualistic ceremonies, the woodland period carried on the hunting and gathering tradition, while introducing new technological advances like bows and arrows. During this period in CVNP, Hopewell culture was extremely present. Classified as an archaeological culture, Hopewell people were most famous for their large-scale geometrical earthworks, as well as creating decorated pottery, figurines, and trading networks. These elaborate architectural achievements and artifacts really help show the creativity of indigenous people during this period. There’s an archaeological district in the valley located in Peninsula called the Everett Historic District that is associated with Hopewellian culture.
Photo via Remarkable Ohio
Whittlesey Focus (1000 A.D. – 1600 A.D.)
Shaping the lives of many Native Americans in the Cuyahoga Valley, the Whittlesey people lived in multi-family homes and scattered villages. They grew fields of corn, squash, and beans – making them the most agriculturally advanced following the other periods. They were known to be the last permanent indigenous inhabitants of CVNP. One specific site in particular identified in the park as important Whittlesey land is the South Park Exhibits, located in Valley View.
Photo via National Parks Service
Proto-Historic Period (1600 A.D. – 1720 A.D.)
This is where we begin to see an increase in the displacement of tribes to make way for European settlement and colonization. This included groups called the Lenape, Oneida, Ottawa, and Wyandot, who originally arrived to the valley because they were unable to defend their original territories, leading them to seek refuge in Ohio’s unclaimed land. Over time, however, as more European settlers began to expand their settlements throughout Ohio, these indigenous groups began to diminish due to things like disease and forced removal.
Native Tribes of Northern Ohio
Photo via Ohio History Central
Due to factors like available game, colonization, and new land development, a variety of different indigenous tribes migrated through and established seasonal residency in northern Ohio. Many descendents of these tribes still live in Ohio today. These tribes include:
Indigenous People and Regenerative Farming
Contrary to previous belief, Europeans did not arrive at America to “untouched land”. Far before the arrival of European settlers, the indigenous people were actively creating different agricultural techniques that helped manage their land, as well as preserve and protect local ecosystems and biodiversity. Many of these practices are the origin of modern-day regenerative farming practices and the regenerative agricultural movement. Some of these practices include (but not limited to):
- Intercropping and Polycultures
- Intercropping means planting more than one crop together, which creates a type of “relationship” between the plants, as their physical aspects complement each other and help promote each other’s health and growth. Polycultures means planting different species of plants to imitate how they would grow naturally in nature.
- Water Management
- Indigenous people helped to create different types of water systems in their agricultural practices, like planting on mounds to drain the soil of excess moisture, preserve soil and reduce erosion. Additionally, some indigenous groups maintained canals and created their own irrigation systems, as well as light dams to redirect water and prevent deep ruts from forming.
- This is the management of trees, crops and animals in a way that forms a beneficial relationship between the three. Indigenous cultures had ancient techniques to manage tree growth, as well as allowing animals to graze among trees, and even using controlled fires to manage forests.
- Agricultural systems of mimicking nature patterns, maintaining sustainability and working with natural forces. Native Americans would help improve their soil health by purposefully planting species with ‘fixed’ nitrogen, as well as incorporating other vital nutrients to their soil. They’d plant species like legumes, which is considered a ‘nitrogen fixing crop’, helps to reduce fertilizer dependence and increase overall soil health.
How Can I Celebrate?
Photo via The New York Times
Since Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a newer holiday, you may be wondering – how can I participate? Many organizations are hosting both in-person and virtual celebrations, including Ohio State’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2021 Celebration, which is a free virtual educational event featuring guest speaker George Godfrey, talking about the forced and “voluntary” removal of the Potawatomi people, who were native to the land regions near southern lake Michigan.
Also, consider researching and donating to Indigenous activist groups and organizations, like International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Cultural Survival, Survival International, Center for World Indigenous Studies, and the Native Americans Rights Fund. These groups all advocate for the recognition of indigenous people, their culture, and their rights.
Looking to try new foods? Consider exploring Native American and Indigenous cuisine! Click here for a list of must-know Native American Dishes and where you can find them!
Finally, try immersing yourself in Indigenous culture through works of art, music and literature. Spotify created a playlist of specifically Native American artists, found here. Additionally, here’s a list of must-read books by indigenous authors.
However you choose to celebrate and acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s important to remember why it was created – to celebrate those who were the actual first inhabitants of our nation, instead of celebrating a man who contributed to mass destruction, colonization, and unwanted assimilation.