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The Shawnee

The Shawnee Tribe’s ancestral, pre-contact homeland is the greater middle Ohio River Valley region, which stretches through large portions of modern Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Despite forced removal and marginalization from the region, the Shawnee Tribe maintains strong ties to this land dotted with Shawnee settlements, sacred sites, and burial grounds.

European colonization of eastern North America led to tremendous disruption of traditional lifeways. The spread of European diseases and Haudenosaunee (“Iroquois”) raids in the 1600s contributed to the Shawnee abandoning their permanent agricultural settlements in the middle Ohio Valley. Initially, Shawnee communities relocated themselves far afield, often settling with long-established trading partners, including those in modern-day Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama., and Pennsylvania. 

The Shawnee Tribe fought to maintain their independence and homelands despite periods of genocide through warfare and disease at the hands of French, Spanish, British and Americans. The Shawnee were regularly forced to relocate their settlements beyond the ever-expanding boundary of colonial-controlled lands. Thus, the Shawnee are often referred to as the “Greatest Travelers in America," having established historic settlements in more than 20 modern states, with the highest concentration in or near their ancestral homelands of the greater Ohio River region. 

In 1793, the Shawnee Tribe obtained a Spanish land grant near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to protect nearby Spanish settlements. The Shawnee Tribe remained there until 1825, when the US Congress ratified a treaty with the tribe ceding their Missouri lands for a 1.6-million-acre reservation in what is currently eastern Kansas. Other Shawnees moved to Texas and Old Mexico and later to southern Oklahoma, becoming the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.

In 1831, the Ohio Shawnees on the Wapakoneta and Hog Creek reservations signed a treaty with the US ceding their lands and were removed to Kansas in 1832-1833, rejoining Shawnee Tribe members from Cape Girardeau. The Lewiston Ohio Reservation Shawnee, who would later become today's Eastern Shawnee Tribe, relocated with the Seneca to Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1831.

The Shawnee Tribe’s Kansas reservation was significantly reduced in 1854 and became allotted to tribal members by 1858. However, aggression and abuse from white settlers before, during, and after the Civil War forced most Shawnee to relocate to Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma. In 1869, the US government led a formal agreement by and between the Shawnee Tribe and the Cherokee Nation in which the Shawnee received allotments and citizenship within the Cherokee Nation. These Shawnees settled in northeast Oklahoma, maintaining distinctive and separate communities and cultural identities. Later, Public Law 106-568, the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000, restored the Shawnee Tribe as a sovereign Indian nation.

In sum, forced removals due to United States policies and Treaties resulted in the Shawnee People being fractured into three independent sovereign Shawnee Communities: the Shawnee Tribe, Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Each of these Shawnee tribes are federally recognized with headquarters within the borders of the State of Oklahoma. The citizens of these three Shawnee communities comprise all saawanooki (Shawnee People) in existence today.