Native Americans, not prehistoric giants or space aliens, built
the mound in Ohio
Shelly Wolf Mother and
Tommy Blue Dancer listen briefly to Chief Glenna Wallace's
presentation at the Serpent Mound park in Peebles, Ohio. (Photo
by Mary Annette Pember)
The Shawnee tribe returned home to the Serpent Mound on the longest
day of the year.
The Summer Solstice, June 20, the longest day of the year, marks
the first time that the Shawnee tribe has officially returned to
the Serpent Mound located in Ohio to present their history and connection
to this place that they called home so many years ago.
Although it was certainly ancestors of the Shawnee people who built
the magnificent serpent shaped mound, the largest earthwork effigy
in the world, Ohio failed to involve the tribe in conveying its
meaning to the public until now.
Glenna Wallace, chief
of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and Ben Barnes, chief
of the Shawnee Tribe described their tribes' connection to
the Serpent Mound in Peebles, Ohio. (Photo by Mary Annette
Glenna Wallace, chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma
and Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, also located in Oklahoma,
spent the weekend telling visitors to the Serpent Mound historical
site about their peoples' and ancestors' connection to Ohio and
Although the weekend was hot and muggy, visitors crowded quietly
under a covered shelter to hear the chiefs talk of their tribes
histories and connections to this remarkable place.
Wallace described the devastating impact of federal assimilationist
policies such as removal on her tribe.
The governments assimilationist policies were almost
a successful genocide for my people. By 1900, our numbers were reduced
to 69 people, she said.
According to Wallace, many Shawnee people lost their language,
culture and ceremonies.
Both Wallace and Barnes, however, described their peoples
deep connection to Ohio, the Serpent Mound and the surrounding series
of earthworks in the region.
Their overwhelming message is one of reverence and respect for
the sacred and a plea for visitors to appreciate and honor the Serpent
Mound as they would a cathedral, synagogue or mosque.
In recent years, activities at the mound have taken on the quality
of what Barnes describes as a minstrel show disrespecting and appropriating
The great Serpent Mound
in Ohio. (Image courtesy of Creative Commons)
Since the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the mound has become a mecca
for followers of New Age spirituality. The idea of the Convergence
was created by author and art historian Jose Arguelles who claimed
August 16-17, 1987, were significant dates in the Maya calendar
and represented an especially auspicious time to meditate for global
Some New Age activities such as digging and burying items in the
mound, forwarding information purporting that the effigy was built
by aliens from space or prehistoric
giants and misrepresenting Native connections to the site has
been of growing concern to tribal leaders like Wallace and Barnes.
Of even greater concern was the way that past managers of the Serpent
Mound site often turned a blind eye to these activities, sometimes
allowing such practitioners to manage and stage events at the mound.
This sent a message to the public that these wild theories were
part of the official history of the site according to Wallace and
Wallace reached out to the Ohio History Connection a few years
ago, sharing her concerns. After several years of meetings and negotiations
with leaders at the History Connection, they soon realized that
it was imperative to involve the Indigenous people who once called
the state home in creating the story of ancient places such as the
Serpent Mound. In March 2021, the Ohio History Connection took over
direct supervision of the Serpent Mound after having subcontracted
its management to a private organization for several years.
It's important for people who come to visit this site to
understand who occupied this land, who built the serpent and to
be really clear that it was built by American Indian people,
said Megan Wood, director of cultural resources at the Ohio History
So we started working together with the tribes to make sure
that during this solstice and hopefully future solstice and equinox
events that there be tribal members here to talk about what this
site means to them and help communicate to visitors how to respect
the mound, not to walk on it, to treat it like you would an historic
church, Wood added.
For many non-Natives in Ohio, Native Americans are part of a distant,
ancient past. In 1830, the Shawnee and other tribes were removed
from Ohio by the federal Dawes or Indian Removal Act. The Shawnee
eventually settled in Oklahoma; there are no federally recognized
tribes located in Ohio. The current Native American population in
the state is around .3 percent.
This lack of Native presence may have helped fuel the proliferation
of unusual stories and legends, according to Wood.
In Ohio, people know very little about Native American history.
When were able to talk about the federal governments
removal policies and what happened here, how long Native peoples
were in Ohio and the fact that they are still living vibrant communities
is very interesting to visitors, Wood said.
Signage at the Serpent
Mound park in Peebles, Ohio reminds visitors to stay off the
mound. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)
According to an article written by Barnes and Brad Lepper, curator
of Archaeology and manager of Archaeology and Natural History at
the Ohio History Connection, Archaeologists agree that ancestors
of American Indians built the mound but disagree about which ancestors.
We think the available evidence supports a Late Pre Contact period
age of around AD 1100, whereas some other archaeologists think it
was built at around 300 BC during the Early Woodland period.
Ohio is home to many earthworks and mounds including the Newark
Earthworks, the largest set of geometric earthen enclosures in the
world. Archaeologists say the Newark Earthworks were built between
100 B.C. and 500 A.D. by the Hopewell culture.
Like the earthworks built by the Hopewell, the Serpent Mound may
have a cosmic connection. The head and oval are aligned to the setting
sun on the summer solstice.
The mound is a National Historic Landmark; in 2008 the Serpent
Mound and eight other Ohio earthworks were selected for inclusion
on the U.S. tentative list of sites to be submitted to the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO)
World Heritage list.
The great serpent is present within our Shawnee traditions
and religious practices today; this is our umbilical, our connection
to the world below, Barnes told the crowd.
I realized that the only way to help my people understand
this place was to abandon words, to get them in a van and travel
here. Now they understand why it needs to be protected, he
The sounds of drums and flutes could be heard in the distance as
Barnes spoke. Another summer solstice event was taking place. Vendors,
speakers and performers who previously occupied the summer solstice
event at the Serpent Mound relocated to a space next door, at Soaring
Eagle Retreat. Here, visitors could still learn about prehistoric
giants and ancient aliens' roles in building the mounds. People
from various unrecognized tribes performed dances and offered drum
and crystal workshops.
One couple dressed in Native inspired dance regalia walked from
the Soaring Eagle Retreat to the shelter where Wallace and Barnes
were conducting their presentation and tried to interrupt. Barnes
gently asked them to wait until Chief Wallace finished speaking.
He was very rude; he wouldnt take my tobacco,
Tommy Blue Dancer and his companion Shelly Wolf Mother told Indian
Country Today. Both claimed to be citizens of the Chickamauga Cherokee
tribe of Kentucky, a state with no federally recognized tribes.
Indian Country Today was unable to find any information about the
Chickamauga Cherokee tribe of Kentucky.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kentucky
does not have a process in which tribes can be recognized by the
Blue Dancer and Wolf Mother left without incident.
Several people from Soaring Eagle Retreat walked around the path
surrounding the mound, some dressed in what appeared to be historic
reenactment costumes or Native inspired garb. Overall, everyone
was respectful, staying off the mound and quietly enjoying the space.
People want to be on the mound and be close to it; there
are ideas around crystals and energies. Anyone can come here and
think and feel what they want but cant physically interact
with the effigy mound. We are trying to have more staff here and
also inviting tribal partners to help people understand why those
things arent appropriate, said Wood.
Ben Barnes, chief of
the Shawnee Tribe and Glenna Wallace chief of the Eastern
Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma pause at the entrance to the Great
Serpent Mound in Peebles, Ohio (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)
Unfortunately the Serpent Mound has become the epicenter
of efforts to appropriate sacred American Indian sites and replace
the Indigenous story with all sorts of fantastic, absurd stories,
said during his solstice presentation.
Lets be absolutely clear. At the heart of these myths
and fantastic stories is the racist notion that American Indians
were too stupid to have built something so wonderful, he added.
Barnes agreed. Native people have inherent rights as defined
by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; that
includes free prior and informed consent on how we are portrayed,
After three long, hot days of multiple public presentations, Barnes,
Wallace and citizens of both Shawnee tribes feasted and prayed.
At sunset they walked to the head of the great serpent, gazing out
towards the horizon. As the sun dipped into darkness, a moment of
connection was palatable, the Shawnee had come home.
Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is
a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.