Ohio Valley Native Americans Speak: Indigenous Discourse on the Continuity of Identity

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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University


Since the 1960's there has been an increase in the assertion of a Native American identity across North America. This identification has been expressed in the Ohio Valley region (Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky) through performance at powwows, re-enactments and restored ceremonies. For the most part in the United States, acceptance of American Indian identification is founded on government recognition, racial appearance, or language. As no Native American languages are still spoken in the region, the "racial" appearance of Ohio Valley Native people is "mixed" or ambiguous, and government recognition is absent for most groups, the question arises of how an Ohio Valley Native identity has developed and been maintained over time. In pursuit of answers to this question, data were gathered at powwows, historic re-enactments, living history enactments, and other events where Ohio Valley Native people participate. Newsletters of Indian organizations and books influencing the expression of a Native Ohio identity also served as sources of primary data. Ethnohistorical research further illuminated the factors that shaped elements of Native American identity in the Ohio Valley. The analysis of interviews and the other data demonstrate that the claim to Native American identity in the Ohio Valley is not, as some have suggested, a newly emergent construction. Rather, Native American identity has been maintained performatively in some quarters for many generations while remaining submerged in others. This Native identity continues to be constructed and performed drawing from a combination of Ohio Valley "folk" culture, Appalachian rural culture and "Pan-Indian" powwows. Similarities and connections were also found to exist with other mixed North American peoples, such as the Métis of Canada and the northern US, and those asserting an Ohio Valley Native identity. These findings counter widely held conceptions that there are no "real Indians" in the Ohio Valley, call into question the bases on which such claims are made, and provide a basis for new understandings of how claims to identity are negotiated among Indigenous peoples in North America.


Thesis (PhD) - Indiana University, Anthropology, 2006


Indigenous Studies, American Indian Identity, Mixed Race Identity, Native Studies, Ethnohistory, Melungeon, Lenape, indigenous peoples, powwow, Native American, Ohio Valley, metis, shawnee, Linguistic Anthropology



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Doctoral Dissertation