Ancient site in Ohio hosts American Indian celebration

By Lisa Cornwell
Cincinnati, Ohio (AP) 6-08

Connie Heald feels an energy flowing from the rhythmic cadence of Native American drums and songs as she and other American Indians and their descendants celebrate their culture at a prehistoric earthworks site in southwest Ohio – a site dating back more than 2,000 years.

Fort Ancient’s earthworks were built by Native Americans of the prehistoric Hopewell culture, which used the land for ceremonial and social gatherings. Heald, a chief with the Blue River Cherokee of Ohio, said that gives a special meaning to a celebration held there each year.

“It’s like you’re dancing and celebrating with your ancestors,” said Heald, who lives in nearby Lebanon.

The 18th annual gathering held June 7 and 8, started out as a one-day celebration with a few hundred people. It now draws more than 3,600, said Fort Ancient site manager Jack Blosser.

People come from as far away as Canada and from states that have included Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, New York and Florida. While most of the performers – including singers and dancers who form a circle around the drums – are of Native American descent, everyone is welcome to attend.

Fort Ancient’s series of earthen walls – now covered with grass and trees – are more than 3.5 miles long and enclose about 100 hilltop acres overlooking the Little Miami River in Oregonia, about 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

“The Native American people consider the drum beat the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” Heald said. “As you listen, you become part of that beat, and it’s almost as though you can feel it spreading through Fort Ancient. It just brings a sense of unity.”

Many have participated for years, such as Mike Amiot, who is of Shawnee descent and a member of the White Oak Singers of Ohio.

“It’s really become like a family reunion for many of us,” said Amiot, of Mount Orab, who said his group’s drum is made from a partially hollow tree and buffalo hide.

Regalia worn at the gathering include leather leggings, moccasins, muslin shirts and buckskin or cloth dresses.

The celebration also includes storytelling and discussions of native heritage and language. Crafts demonstrations include flint knapping, finger weaving and the creation of dream catchers – handcrafted objects resembling hoops with nets.

Tammy Kinderman, of Cherokee heritage, is the head female dancer.

“Dancing is what I enjoy most,” said Kinderman, of Colerain Township in suburban Cincinnati. “Some dances tell stories, and they can help us teach people about our culture.”

Douglas Blue Feather, an award-winning songwriter, recording artist and performer of contemporary Native American flute music, was scheduled to perform

Others performers included the Fireside Drum from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada, and the Struck By Lightning drum group from Fairmont, W.Va.

While the gathering is held just once annually, Fort Ancient is open April through October. It’s a National Historic Landmark and among a handful of Ohio sites on a U.S. list of nominations for World Heritage designation. A museum at the site features 15,000 years of American Indian history in the Ohio Valley.

“Many people don’t think we have Native Americans in Ohio,” Blosser said. “We try to educate the public about Ohio’s cultural diversity and its rich Native American heritage.”

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