The following article was written by Jeremy D. Wells, Scioto Voice News Editor

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The Scioto Voice - Nov. 26, 2015

Education program encourages respect for heritage, nature and culture

By Jeremy D. Wells, Scioto Voice News Editor



       November is Native American Heritage Month. A time to celebrate those people who came before us, lending their names to places and animals that we take for granted, if we bother to think of them at all, and who marked the landscape we call home with mounds, effigies, and carvings.  It's a heritage that Steve Free lives and breathes every day, and one that he shares with youth across the state through his Ohio Arts Council supported educational program.  Free explained that he takes the different aspects of his heritage, the Cherokee, the Shawnee, and the Appalachian, and use that to connect students to their own heritage while also teaching them to celebrate the diversity of Ohio's people, cultures, and natural areas.

          "I try to take the southern Ohio culture, what as shaped us, and teach it," he explained. "That's what I do, while I do them all over the country, is mainly in Ohio. I teach them about Appalachian music and Appalachian culture, and also the Native American culture. The one thing they (Appalachian and Native culture and music) have in common is that tie to the land."

          Free, whose newest CD "Ship of Dreams" has been nominated for a Grammy in the Americana category, said he always starts with the music before moving on to other concepts, such as respect for the natural world. Quoting Chief Seattle, for example, Free said that he'll remind students that "the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers", to emphasize our dependence on and connection to the natural world. He also uses the drum, which he described as the heartbeat of mother earth, to not only emphasize a connection to nature, but to emphasize the difference between different tribes and their individual traditions and rituals.

           He also likes to bring maps into the mix, showing kids where native groups lived and how the geography of Appalachian Ohio has shaped the lives of people from ancient times through today.

         "You'd be surprised. Nobody knows this part of Ohio exists," he said of school children and even teachers from the northern and urban areas of the state. "We're like a timewarp down here. It's so funny."

          Free said the further north they go, the more likely they are to encounter folks who think they are from the deep south. While the accent may not seem so noticeable to us, Free said that to by the time they reach areas like Cleveland or Akron, folks are surprised to hear they are from Ohio.

         "And you'd be surprised how many of them have no idea of the Shawnee, of the Native American cultures, that were in Ohio," he said. Even the Serpent Mound, one of the best known effigy mounds anywhere in the world, that draws tourists from around the globe, is unknown to some of the folks they encounter.

         "I've met people from around the world (at Serpent Mound)," he said, "but people from Cleveland that don't know about it."
         Free said he feels it's important to share this heritage with folks from other parts of the state because, "the Appalachian heritage, and the Native American heritage, have affected the whole state.   You don't realize the effect it had on everything."  This includes place names like Chillicothe, named for one of the five Shawnee clans and Scioto, from a Wyandot word for deer. Even Shawnee, one of the original groups inhabiting this area who have lent their name to everything from a state forest to a university, aren't remembered exactly as they should be, Free explained.

         "I love to get the map out and go, 'Ok, you're up here, and we're way down here.' And they'll go 'Whoah!!'," he said. Then he'll ask "You've heard of the Shawnee? Well, that's where I live in the Shawnee Forest. But actually that's not how you say it. I mean, that's not really how you say it. It's much prettier if you say it right. It's Sha-wa-na-see. Not Shawnee. Because I'd say United States, their names aren't what they originally were."

        For instance the Delaware, who moved into the Ohio River Valley from their homelands in the Lower Hudson River Valley, called themselves the Lenape, Free explained. However because they came to Ohio from the land that the English had renamed Delaware, they had that name associated with them. Other tribes had monikers assigned to them that were actually slurs from their rival bands. But this rich diversity of stories, music, and heritage has gone largely ignored by a culture that first reduced natives to a Hollywood stereotype before then forgetting them altogether. But as long as folks like Free have a voice to sing and stories to share, that heritage shall live on.

          For more information on Steve's program, including information on applying for grant funds to support his program in your schools, you can visit his website