THH 32: Giving Voice: Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe

Transcript of Giving Voice: Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice.

For this installment of Giving Voice, I was lucky enough to speak with Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. If you haven’t listened to THH’s two-part series covering the life of Tenskwatawa, I’d suggest going back to do that now, as I do reference those episodes a few times throughout the discussion and they give some good context for understanding where our conversation picks up.

And now, Giving Voice.

Beckley: I’m here today with Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. I’m so happy that you had time to come on and talk with us today.

Barnes: Thank you very much, Lindsey. I appreciate the invite.

Beckley: Of course. We’re absolutely thrilled to have you on the show. So, I thought we would start off with a super basic question. I know we use the term tribe or tribal nation a lot and I’m not sure that people know exactly what that means, what all that entails, and what being a member of a tribe entails. If you could give us a little bit of insight into that, I would really appreciate it.

Barnes: It’s probably easiest to summarize it in the way the federal government defines it. The constitution of the United States states that there are three types of sovereigns. There is the federal government, there is the states, and there are the tribes. So tribal nations are separate inherent sovereigns within the United States similar in some ways to state governments. So, the constitution dictates that these three entities are sovereigns within each other in our nation. So, for a tribal nation such as the Shawnee Tribe, we are one of those sovereigns and we have been here since prior to the United States, identifying as Shawnee People. We’ve had numerous flags over portions of our area – Spain to the French to Canada to Britain and the Republic of Texas as well as the United States.

Beckley: And to be a part of the Shawnee Tribe or, I guess, any tribal nation, could you give us a little bit of insight into what it means to become a member and what it takes to become a member?

Barnes: If you’re a citizen of Italy, you know you’re a citizen of Italy. You were born, you met the standards of citizenship or Italy. It is much the same with tribal nations. You are a member of that nation. Your ancestors are a part of that community, you have citizenship within that nation. So the government of that tribe recognizes you as a citizen of that indigenous nation of peoples.

Beckley: So, to talk a little bit more about Shawnee history in Indiana, or in present-day Indiana – I think a lot of people think about Potawatomi and Miami maybe, if they think about Native history in Indiana, and they might not know much about the Shawnee connections here. Could you speak to that a little bit?

Barnes: I think you also have to define terms. You’re talking about Indiana. Indiana was much larger than in was at time of statehood. Indiana territory was also Illinois, so Indiana was a very large area. And even before that, Indiana was part of a larger western holding of colonial powers. So, inside what is the current state of Indiana, you have present-day Prophetstown, you have Shawnee villages along the White River. Fort Wayne is also known by other names – Kekionga by the Miami or Chillicothe amongst the Shawnee people. So, the old city of Chillicothe, which is the Shawnee town that was located at Fort Wayne. So, you have Prophetstown where Tenskwatawa the Prophet – he had a town that he lived in, and his brother. During the War of 1812, that was a stronghold for them and they even, prior to the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa lived along the White River, hatching their plan for pan-Indian resistance to colonialism.

Beckley: Yeah, and if folks have listened to our previous two episodes, they know a little bit more about that, so I’m glad that you touched on that a little bit. I know that you’re still active in the state and that you’re still coming here and doing some work every once in a while. Could you speak to the sort of causes you work for when you come here and how folks can learn more about that?

Barnes: There are federal and state laws that require tribal interactions with the other sovereigns, the federal and the state. And amongst those is a law called NAGPRA – Native American Protection and Repatriation Act. Because Shawnee’s lived in Indiana, and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced eastern tribal nations to be relocated to western states like Oklahoma and elsewhere, those villages and the graves of those villages – there are people still buried there. So, as cities expand, as someone puts in a mini mall, as highways are built, occasionally graves are discovered. So, for the Shawnee and other tribes of historic Indiana, we engage in at the state and federal levels with those entities to make sure we’re doing what is best for those people there, and try to be as respectful to the people and make sure those remains are being treated as respectfully as possible, just like you would do with any other cemetery relocation. So, there are federal laws that mandate this for tribal nations and tribal cemeteries.

There is also an educational component that we work with as well. We have a great relationship with the Indiana University staff in various departments – folklore, anthropology, archaeology et cetera, we work very well with them. There’s an ethno-musicology archive of traditional music there at the campus in Bloomington. You know, we’ve known them for more than a decade. And early anthropologists called – a great many of them came out of Indiana University. A lot of that was because one of the early fathers of industry in Indiana, Eli Lilly, had an obsession with Indian artifacts and he hired teams of anthropologists, cartographers, linguists, et cetera to do research on tribal nations. He sent researchers out and one of the peoples that were rich in culture and language were the Shawnee, so Indiana University has known the Shawnee for a long time. And it’s been a pleasure for my tribe to become acquainted with them in the last ten or fifteen years and renew those relationships, but this time on our terms, rather than just having a bungee jumping anthropologist come into our communities, extract data for their own purposes, with no intention of reciprocity with that community.

Beckley: Yeah, we talked a little about that with Chris Newell. . . . about anthropologists coming into communities and using the knowledge of the people living there, and then creating a basis of work that is created out of the ancestral knowledge of these people. Basically, they’re building a career on the knowledge of others.

Barnes: That’s correct. Like, we can take an example- Eli Lilly hired a linguist, Charles Vogel [Voegelin], and [Voegelin] came into Shawnee communities and collected linguistic data, and the purpose of the linguistic data was not to preserve the language. It was not to make sure this language continued to be spoken in the Shawnee community. It was not to develop curriculum so that children could more easily learn the language of their ancestors as they were facing the pressures of assimilation. His goal was to bring that information back to Indiana, use it to create Masters and PhD’s and prove the richness of the university experience and part of the linguistics of Indiana. And so, untold careers were launched literally off the bones of our ancestors – the voices of our ancestors, with no thought for reciprocity towards the people that were contributing that knowledge. So that richness of these indigenous communities that lifted up these scholars, there was no reciprocity back to our communities to make sure that these cultures could benefit from the research that was going on. There has been a change in academia – largely because of pressure and interest from tribal nations wanting to engage with academics and journals and other academic publishing – to tell a truer story of early America. To make sure that Native voices are included in those narratives, that the context is not lost and that we can re-contextualize those old documents and put Shawnee voices back into them.

Beckley: Absolutely. We talk a little bit about that in our past two episodes. We’re using these colonized documents, but we have to find a way to contextualize them with Native voice and make sure that we’re telling as complete of a story as we can.

Barnes: That’s how it started for me . . . I initially got into tribal government, there was a couple of key issues and one of them was language preservation. So, quickly, when you do the work of language preservation, you come in contact with the archive. So, Indiana, there is this troika of institutions. The triad of institutions that hold the corpus of Shawnee language and one of them happens to be Indiana, and that’s because of Charles [Voegelin] and his time and tenure as a linguist in the employ of Eli Lilly.

Beckley: So, what sorts of things are you doing to promote the language, the Shawnee language? Are you doing curriculum? Is that something that you’re interested in? What kinds of things are you working towards?

Barnes: Curriculum and pedagogy methods. So, the world’s turned, and it’s changed and it’s becoming more digital and while we are able to, like, you and I are talking from a vast distance today, across a couple of computers. In prior generations, it was the telephone, and before that we had to send letters, so the method of teaching needs to adapt to become more like 2020 than 1920. And unfortunately, a lot of language teaching methods are still based in early-20th century teaching methodologies. Well, that doesn’t work in a diaspora community where people are spread across a continent. And so, we have to find new ways to deliver content and to deliver curriculum.

Beckley: I think that being here in a time when we are all separated by a distance and communicating through various methods – Zoom, Google Hangouts, and whatnot, I think that that has really opened our eyes to a few more opportunities as far as teaching methods and stuff like that. I know I’m taking an online baking class this weekend so it’s interesting to see how much people have kind of opened up different avenues for teaching different topics.

Barnes: Yeah, there’s a little irony for me . . . you know, we’re talking about these bungee jumping anthropologists that would jump into our communities and take data, you know, and they were observing our communities. Well, now, we find that the coin is flipped and we’re watching you guys in the glass bubble of academic institutions and seeing how you’re going to handle campuses that are closed. How are you going to be able to deliver curriculum? Universities have been loathe to move to an online learning model – they’re stuck in the Oxford method of teaching people. One person stands in front of a class and teaches forty or fifty people. Well, how are you going to accomplish that now with social distancing? So, it’s interesting and ironic to me. Now we’re watching you, instead of, a century ago, you were watching us.

Beckley: Hopefully we’ll be able to navigate it a little bit better than – I think we’ve pivoted a bit. It took a little bit, but it seems like people are slowly but surely figuring it out. Speaking of COVID-19 and the social distancing, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit to how the pandemic has hit your people and just Native populations in general.

Barnes: I suspect it’s much like other states. We’ve been watching other states and other locals deal with this and I see Kentucky responding differently than Tennessee, or I see this county respond differently than that county or this city compared to this city. So, each one has its own type of leadership. And it’s much the same in Indian country. One county’s more progressive in its measures, you know, they put in more restrictive methods. We have another county that wants to have the economic – has more economic concerns. They may have a tax issue in their city and there’s a real cash need to make sure that things go back to normal as quick as possible, seeing how those things are balanced. So, we’re watching those things.

But, at least with the Shawnee tribe, within our government itself, we find ourselves in an advantageous position that we are equipped financially to ride this out and keep our people employed. We’ve been lucky to secure food, and for Shawnee citizens, we have ShawneeRelief.org, where we’re providing food for the elderly to keep them indoors as much as possible. We try to keep everyone up to date. Language curriculum is now being delivered in an online – it’s forced us to move to an online format sooner than we wanted. We had a project that was in the planning process for 2020, to be deployed in 2021, to deliver online language classrooms to our citizens. Well, we’re finding ourselves having to do that now and we’re not even halfway through the year.

Beckley: It sounds like you guys are, along with all of us, pivoting well. I’m glad to hear that.

Barnes: We’ve been really lucky. We’ve found that some of our best resources have been our tribal citizens. I found a epidemiologist that is a tribal citizen and she lives in Norman [Oklahoma] and works at the University of Oklahoma, and she’s an epidemiologist. So, actually being able to have someone who is able to interpret some of the details that I just don’t understand, I don’t have the education to interpret. . . . And to be able to draft policy at a governmental level, send it to an epidemiologist, and have them give me professional advice on what that should look like and on what areas we can do better, what steps are unnecessary – that is invaluable. So, we are very fortunate that we have the citizens that have the skill sets to be able to contribute to their tribal nation in this difficult time of social distancing.

Beckley: I think that is about all the time we have, but I was hoping you could tell the folks at home how they can learn more about your work, and about the Shawnee Nation and about Shawnee history – is there any online resources for them that you would suggest?

Barnes: Online resources are always dodgy when it comes to indigenous peoples because you always have to question the source – who wrote it, what was the context of it? The three Shawnee Tribes are the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Shawnee Tribe. Each of us have our own corresponding website. Those are the three Shawnee tribes. There has been a body of work that has been written by scholars. The best is a guy named Stephen Warren. Stephen Warren’s written a couple of books on Shawnee people. There’s others that have written on treaties like Collin Calloway, he’s written on Shawnee people. So, I would start with a couple of those books and look at the references at the back of the book – who did they cite, who did they read, who did they research? Because those are two top notch scholars.

Beckley: We’ll put a link to those things in our show notes which are found at blog.history.in.gov. Ben, I want to thank you so much for coming on today. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you.

Barnes: Thank you for the invite. We appreciate it.

Beckley: Once again, I want to thank Chief Barnes for taking the time to talk with me for this episode. As mentioned at the end of that discussion, check out the show notes for useful links for resources to learn about the Shawnee Tribe. We’ll be back on June 10 with a new episode! In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana history tidbits. Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Susan Elston Wallace: Forgotten Writer and Early Environmentalist

Susan Wallace, courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Along with many of her fellow 19th-Century sisters of the pen, Susan Elston Wallace and her work are little known to us today.  These female authors practiced their craft seriously and sold well, yet were never regarded as important as male writers whose subjects were presumed to be nobler, of higher value.  When fine work by women disappeared and men’s work became classics, an unknown cost fell upon our culture and our vision of ourselves as a nation.

As a writer, Susan Wallace (1830-1907) possessed certain attributes that partially set her apart her from the “female writer” stereotype.   Initially, as a young woman she had more or less lived the stereotype by publishing poetry on domestic subjects. One of those poems was anthologized and widely circulated in a children’s textbook.

Later in life, she was exempted from ordinary critique as a “female writer” because she was the wife of General Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur, the best-selling book of the 19th century.  (Only the Bible sold more copies).  Lew was a prolific writer and a man of great personal accomplishment, who, among other distinctions, was a Civil War general, Governor of New Mexico Territory (1878-1881), and an ambassador to Turkey.  Susan, without a doubt, was Lew’s collaborator and co-researcher.  She was fully recognized by him as an intellectual and literary equal.  Given this unusual and little-known partnership, it is no wonder that deep knowledge of the world and of its peoples mark both of their works. Surely both partners strongly influenced the other’s work.  Whether they were living in Crawfordsville, Indiana, or in the New Mexico Territory, or in the Ottoman Empire, both husband and wife engaged in writing projects.

It is the New Mexico piece of Susan’s writing career that I will use to demonstrate Elston Wallace’s talent as a non-fiction writer, whose insights track a line of prescient environmental thinking.  Her writing style is not only alive with ideas, it exhibits a freshness and wit that makes it inviting to contemporary readers.

Courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Elston Wallace’s book about her New Mexico sojourn is called The Land of the Pueblos.  It is comprised of twenty-seven essays, first published as “travel pieces” in prestigious national magazines and newspapers like the Atlantic Monthly, the Independent, and the New York Tribune.  Being published in such influential East Coast periodicals speaks of the high regard in which her writing was held at the time. In these essays, Susan did not write a word about the many social duties—the teas, the formal receptions, entertaining visiting dignitaries—she would have performed as the wife of the Governor of New Mexico Territory.  Nor does she write about her husband in his official capacity.  Rather, she applied her excellent educational background and her intellectual curiosity to learning and writing about New Mexican natural history and human history.

Elston Wallace also holds the rare honor of having saved much of New Mexico’s written colonial history, which had been forgotten in an outbuilding adjacent to the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe.  There, Elston Wallace came upon and then personally helped salvage much of the Territory’s surviving early recorded history, a topic about which she wrote vividly.  These documents tutored her.  They spurred her curiosity and inspired many of her essays.

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It was New Mexico, though, that made Elston Wallace aware of environmental issues.  She was an astute observer of the natural world, learning names and habits of the plants and animals; she studied landforms and how rivers ran.  Her ability to write about these things gives her work its most notable signature.  Increasingly more knowledgeable about her surroundings and thereby more fully conscious of how human life in New Mexico had been shaped, Elston Wallace soon apprehended how the Spaniards, in particular, had affected the land and its original inhabitants. In her first essay, Elston Wallace makes clear that the “greed of gold and conquest” had despoiled New Mexico.

Image from The Land of the Pueblos (1889), courtesy of Archive.org.

She also proves herself as an able thinker regarding how land and people’s fates are intertwined, such as this example:

Four hundred years ago the Pueblo Indians were freeholders of the vast unmapped domain lying between the Rio Pecos and the Gila, and their separate communities, dense and self-supporting, were dotted over the fertile valleys of Utah and Colorado, and stretch as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico.  Bounded by rigid conservatism as a wall, in all these ages they have undergone slight change by contact with the white race and are yet a peculiar people, distinct from the other aboriginal tribes of this continent as the Jew are from the other races in Christendom.  The story of these least known citizens of the United States takes us back to the days of . . . the . . . great Elizabeth.

Note how in this passage Elston Wallace identifies the “vast unmapped domain” of the Pueblos and identifies their communities as “separate,” “dense,” and “self-supporting.”  She identifies the land as fertile and the Pueblos as having a distinct culture, comparing them favorably to Jews among Christians.  She calls the Pueblos “citizens.”

Image from The Land of the Pueblos (1889), courtesy of Archive.org.

Elston Wallace’s use of the term “conservative” in this passage may be accurately rendered as “stable.”  So, the nature of the Pueblo peoples, she says, have “undergone [only] slight change by contact with the white race.”  By using this terminology, she points toward stabilizing forces that were afoot in 19th-Century America, when colonies promoting shared, stable agrarian living were being intentionally created.  The Shakers, New Harmony, and the Amanas were and are communities so notable that their names and accomplishments come down to us today.  In the previous passage, Elston Wallace describes the Pueblo communities, their governance, and their farming practices with phrases admired by her own culture and era.  New Mexico’s native peoples were freeholders; they were self-supporting; they formed communities; they were citizens.  Few other historians of the period write about the Pueblos at all, let alone view them as central to the history of the land they inhabit, and as admirable people.

It can be argued, of course, that Elston Wallace’s progressive fellow citizens of the period had a habit of idealizing Native Peoples and had a strong aversion (call it prejudice) against Catholic Spain.  That being said, Elston Wallace’s analysis and her rich empathy supported by historical knowledge and argumentation make her work stand apart.  Her brave voice stands in strong contrast to typical histories of her day and those written through the middle of the 20th century. A pertinent example is Paul Horgan’s The Centuries of Santa Fe (1956), which presents the conquest version of New Mexico’s history as thoroughly Eurocentric.  In this version, the Mexicans succeeded the Spanish and the Americans succeeded the Mexicans until the New Mexican piece of America’s Manifest Destiny fell into place in 1846.

Given this widely accepted version of conquest history that Horgan and other historians espouse, it is no wonder that he not only displaces the Pueblos, he displaces Elston Wallace as a New Mexican historian who understands and chronicles their worth and richness.  Ironically, Horgan  credits Governor Lew Wallace, not his wife, as saving “what he could of the collection of [New Mexican historical] documents already scattered, lost, or sold.”

Horgan’s “authoritative” reporting, so common among mainline historians of the 20th century, renders the Pueblo peoples, their land, and the intelligent woman who told their stories in the l880s invisible.  No matter how accurate and astute Elston Wallace’s argument was, it had no efficacy since it was not “remembered” in mainstream histories of New Mexico and the West.  Such an argument, had it been heard and then acted upon, might have reshaped our history.

John Gast/George A. Crofutt, “American Progress,” circa 1873, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In an era of unstoppable exploration and exploitation of the West and its mineral resources, Susan Elston Wallace saw, understood, and wrote about a broader, deeper story, one which speaks of how we as people can best live on the land. She vividly chronicles what happens when natural patterns are disrupted.  In our century, we would regard Elston Wallace’s vision as a strongly environmental one, central to our 21st-Century understanding of essential sustainability.

So, while Elston Wallace certainly did entertain the intellectual readers of the East Coast and Midwest with tales of Montezuma and adventures of travel in the Wild West, in The Land of The Pueblos, she also boldly introduced her readers to what happens when “a native self-sustaining people, independent of the Government, the only aborigines among us not a curse to the soil” are abused along with their land through the claims of colonialism.

During the late 19th century, it was widely assumed that men make history. Elston Wallace challenges that point of view and deserves a place in our history as an excellent non-fiction essayist.  She also deserves a place as a dissenter to colonial history’s single, obliterating story of man as controller of nature.  Susan Wallace was an early environmentalist:  she gave voice to New Mexico’s landscape and to its original peoples.  Researchers have exciting work to undertake in the Susan Elston Wallace archives.