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History and Religion of Shawnee Tribe

Anup Patwardhan
The Shawnee tribe is a native American Indian tribe, which has its religious beliefs rooted firmly in its culture. People of this clan lived in the Central Ohio River Valley. Today, most of them have settled in different parts of Oklahoma.


The Shawnee tribe is an autonomous tribe, which gives it a status that is similar to a country. But the tribesmen are also citizens of the United States, and have to adhere to the laws of the nation.
The native American Indian people living in the eastern parts of the United States, like Tennessee and Kentucky, are known as Eastern Woodland Indians. One of the Indian tribes from the Woodland Group is the Shawnee tribe.
This tribe achieved federal recognition in the year 2000, when the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000 was signed by Bill Clinton, the then President of the United States.

Where Did the Shawnee Tribe Live?

The people of this tribe originally lived in the Central Ohio River Valley. The tribesmen were nomadic, and were pushed into the western parts of the nation by the white people. Some tribesmen went to Texas and Old Mexico, and later on near the Canadian river in Southern Oklahoma. These people were known as the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
Some tribal people who lived in Ohio were granted reservations by the United States, in Lewistown. They moved to the Indian territory of Oklahoma after signing a treaty with the government in 1831, and were known as the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
The rest of the tribesmen were given reservations in Kansas, and they had to move from Kansas to the Cherokee Nation in eastern Oklahoma as a result of the Civil War and its aftermath.
A formal agreement was reached between them and the federal government, following which they received allotments and citizenship of the Cherokee Nation. These tribesmen were later known as the Loyal Shawnees.


The people of this tribe spoke the Shawnee language, which is one of the Algonquian languages. The Algonquian languages form a North American Indian language family. The name of this tribe comes from the Algonquian word 'Shawanwa', which means a 'southerner'.
Today, most of the people belonging to this tribe speak English. However, the Shawnee language is still spoken among elders. As its use is limited mostly to the elders, the language is on verge of extinction.


As mentioned earlier, the people of this tribe were nomadic, and their homes were not made of permanent structures.
Their houses, which were known as 'Wigwams', were mostly made of grass, bark, and cloth. In addition to the houses, a village also had a large council hall. Apartment buildings and houses are residences of most of the modern tribesmen nowadays.

Religion and Culture

The people of this tribe followed a traditional tribal religion, and their religious beliefs had become homogeneous with their cultural beliefs. Today, most of them follow Christianity, or are members of the Native American Church.
Religious ceremonies were performed in the council hall of the village. These included ceremonies like ritual purification of the warrior, spring bread dance, green corn dance, and autumn bread dance. The ritual purification of warriors was carried out so that they would not have to bear any burden, guilt, or shame of wartime killings.
The spring bread dance indicated the planting of crops. While, the green corn dance and the autumn bread dance were to mark the ripening of crops.
The tribe was made up of five divisions, and the organization of these clans was patriarchal. The position of the civil chief was passed down in a family. The war chief, on the other hand, was chosen on the basis of bravery, skill, and experience that a man possessed.
The main occupation of the males was hunting, whereas, the females cultivated corn and other vegetables in the fields, along with taking care of the household chores.

Traditional Clothing

It was not a compulsion for the people of this tribe to wear shirts. In winter, however, they wore 'ponchos', which was the outer part of the clothing that protected them from the cold weather.
Traditionally, men wore breechclouts, also known as loincloth, along with leggings. The women wore skirts along with the leggings. Moccasins were a standard footwear for both, men and women.
Owing to their nomadic lifestyle, they came in contact with other Indian tribes, and adopted various styles of dressing from these tribes. In today's times, their dressing is like every modern American. Though many may still possess the traditional headbands or moccasins, the use of these is limited to only special occasions.
At the turn of the century, there were around 10,000 individuals who belonged to this native Indian tribe. They lead a lifestyle like any other American citizen, and also strive to keep alive the legacy of their culture and heritage.