One State-Many Nations

Western Reserve Public Media



One State-Many Nations: Native Americans of Ohio offers a rich cultural and historical heritage. While each Nation (Tribe) is unique, we are going to look at the common characteristics.

Before We Begin
Western Reserve Public Media has chosen to use the designation “Native Americans” because this is the designation desired by the Native American Nations of Ohio with whom we are working. As we did research, we discovered that Native Americans in the West prefer the term American Indians and in Canada the term First Nation is preferred.


Nations are categorized into cultural, geographic and environmental areas:

  • Ohio Native Americans belong to two language groups, Iroquois and Algonquian. The Iroquois speakers were the Wyandotte and the Mingo, and the Algonquian speakers were the Shawnee, Delaware, Miami and Ottawa.

  • Geographically, the Iroquoian people lived in north central, northeastern and south central Ohio. The Algonquian people were mostly in the southern and western areas.

  • Ohio Indians are considered part of the Northeast section and are also known as Woodland people.


Native people lived in Ohio for more than 12,000 years.

  • Paleo-Indians are believed to have lived in Ohio from 13,000 to 7,000 BC.

  • Archaic people lived in Ohio from 8,000 to 500 BC.

  • The Adena people lived in Ohio from around 800 BC to 100 AD.

  • The Hopewell culture thrived from around 100 BC to 400 AD.

  • The Woodland cultures started to appear between 800 BC and 1200 AD.

  • The Whittlesey and Sandusky people (or the late Prehistoric peoples) appear from 1000 AD to 1650 AD.

  • Native Americans in Ohio after 1650 AD are known as Historic Native people.


Native people utilized the resources of the region in which they lived.

  • Fishing was common to people who lived along Lake Erie or along rivers.

  • Natives living in the Appalachian area hunted white tail dear or bear.

  • The plains of western Ohio allowed for planting.

  • The time period in which a group of Native people lived is linked to what plants and animals were available to them.


How Native people built their homes depended on the material at hand and the weather in which they had to survive.

  • The earliest Native Ohioans lived as nomads. In warm weather they built temporary shelters and sought rock shelters in the winter.

  • The Adena built circular houses made by putting vertical posts in the ground, spaced slightly apart; then vines, boughs, cane matting and other woody materials were woven between the posts to make walls.

  • Hopewell people built square or rectangular houses. Poles with long tapered tops were pulled together and fastened to ridge poles down the center to make an arched roof. Bark and thatch were used for roofs.

  • Fort Ancient people built rectangular houses with posts set vertically in the ground to form walls. Wattle and daub, made by weaving vines and boughs together and packed with mud, made the walls. The roofs were probably thatched.

  • The Whittlesey people built round houses like the historic Wigwam. These were covered with mats usually made from cattail stalks or tree bark.

  • Historic Native Ohioans built many different types of houses. The type of house depended on the Native nation to which they belonged. See the section on each of the tribes to find out about the housing.


The type of food Native people ate depended on what was available at what time of year.

  • Some Native people were hunters and followed ducks, geese, bear, rabbit, squirrel and other animals native to the area.

  • Some Native Americans were farmers. They grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and pumpkin. The “Three Sisters” — corn, beans and squash — were staples of the diet.

  • Depending on the area, other food items available included fish, clams, duck, geese, maple sugar, berries, sassafras, walnuts, hickory nuts and much more.


Native Americans first made their tools and in later years, traded to get the tools that they needed.

  • Tools could be made out of flint from central Ohio, wood, bone shell and plants.

  • Historic Indians often traded furs for goods and materials to make their lives easier like cooking pots, iron tools, cloth for clothing and different foods.



  • Early Natives used canoes dug out of tulip poplar or canoes covered in elm bark or they walked.

  • The horse was later introduced as a method of transportation.


The clothing of the Native peoples varied from nation to nation and depended upon the time period the nation was in Ohio.

  • Early people in Ohio used animal skins, mostly deer, that were tanned and hung over a fire to be made waterproof.

  • Some textiles were woven from tree bark or other plants.

  • Early men wore breech cloth, a long piece of leather or fabric between the legs and held up by a belt, and moccasins.

  • Early women wore a short skirt, leggings and moccasins.

  • Designs on clothing were made using “stamps” created from stone or wood. Other decorations were made of copper, stone, bone, wood, shell and horn. Porcupine quills, moose hair and fresh water pearls were also used.

  • Historic Indians traded fur for wool and cotton cloth, silk ribbons, glass beads and silver.

  • The impact of the settlers caused changes in the style of dress of the Natives.


Hair and Body Decorations
Hair style and body decorations were often used to distinguish one Native group from another.

  • Prehistoric Native Americans sported elaborate hair styles. Men styled their hair in a single bun above the middle of the forehead while women wore a single braid down the back with a bun over the forehead and another at the nape of the neck.

  • In later years, many men shaved their hair and left a long braid on top called a scalp lock. Women still wore one long braid down the back.

  • Early Natives used tattoos, body paint and piercing for personal decoration. Sometimes decorations of copper, shell, bone, wood or horn were inserted or pierced into the skin.

  • Some body decorations denoted class affiliation or personal spiritual totems.


Native Americans had four reasons for playing games: to have fun, to keep fit, to learn and to enact ceremonies.

  • Games like “toss the stick” or “spear the moose” taught eye-hand coordination. These are just two of the many games played by Natives.

  • Adults as well as children played games. Games of chance were played with “dice” made of wood, bone or antler. Bets were made that wagered on the skill of the participant.


Music and Dance
Music was used to accompany dance, to teach lessons to the young, to make work easier, to engage in courtship and to have fun.

Dance was used for ceremonial purposes, for social purposes, for young people to meet and be properly introduced, and for commemoration of special occasions in tribal history.

  • Some of the Native American musical instruments are still in use today. They include drums, pan pipes, rattles, flutes, whistles and bells.

  • The drum, still considered sacred, represents the earth and is said to be the heart beat of Mother Earth.

  • The drum is played in a two-beat style, not the ”Hollywood” version (DA-da-da-da, DA, da, da, da).

  • The drum was never given to children as a toy.



  • Some stories were told just for fun.

  • Others recounted the history of the nation or explained their spiritual beliefs, laws and moral beliefs.

  • Some stories explained where the Native person fit in Creation.

  • Children were taught the rules of their society through stories.


Cultural Compression
Cultural compression occurs when one group of people moves into an area already occupied by another group.

  • Cultural compression has a domino effect. One group moves in physically with another group. These two groups are forced into the physical space of a third group and so forth.

  • Cultural compression results in changes in culture, language, social customs and traditional ways of life.

  • Sometimes customs and traditions comingle and result in changes in the original groups.
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