Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#ToBeShawnee: A Tale of Two Chiefs

To Be Shawnee:
A Tale of Two Chiefs

The very word unifies them as a nation. Yet in all of Shawnee history, the only time they ever came together as one people was when there was a threat against all Shawnee people. The Shawnee have always lived an independent lifestyle. To be an adult Shawnee meant you could live wherever you wanted without the need to answer to anyone.  This allowed the Shawnee the freedom to settle anywhere which is why when the settlers began to explore the wilderness it was very easy for them to run into a Shawnee.

One of the problems the Europeans faced with the Shawnee people was the idea of political unity. The Europeans' concept of leadership was completely different than the Shawnee. They were coming for a culture where monarchy was the rule of the land. This meant everyone obeyed one leader. To the Shawnee this was a foreign concept. While they did have chiefs, they could leave the chief's leadership if they disagreed with the chief. So when a chief makes an agreement with another he is speaking for his village but if a person does not agree with the comprise he or she is free to leave without any political repercussions. The Europeans had expected if a compromise was made with a Shawnee chief then it was to be followed by all Shawnee. In the Shawnee's eyes, the compromise was made only with his or her village not the entire nation. The cultural differences in this belief often mistakenly lead the Europeans in conflict with the Shawnee.

Ideally the leadership of a village was lead under two chiefs, the peace chief and the war chief.  The two did not come from the same division nor did they lead their people at the same time. Shawnee division were: Chillicothe (Chalahgawtha) [Chalaka, Chalakatha], Hathawekela (Asswikales, Sweickleys, etc.) [Thawikila], Kispokotha (Kispoko) [kishpoko, kishpokotha], Mequachake (Mekoche, Machachee, Maguck, Mackachack) [Mekoche] and Pekuwe (Piqua, Pekowi, Pickaway, Picks) [Pekowi, Pekowitha]. All villages had a council of elders that were like advisers to the chief. No chief could make a decision without seeking the advice of the elders. Council meetings were often held for three days. 

The Peace Chief

The peace chief came from the Chillicothe division. He was responsible for leading the village
in times of peace and only answered to the principal peace chief. The principal peace chief was the peace leader over of all the Shawnee. Each summer the village peace chiefs would travel to the principal peace chief's village for a great council. The position of peace chief was hereditary. It could only be passed from father to son. The principal chief was chosen from the independent village chiefs. A famous Shawnee peace chief was Chief Cornstalk.

The peace chief's wife was known as the female peace chief. She had the responsibility of overseeing the female duties of the village, ordering when to plant and sow the fields and scheduled the cooking for the feasts. Women had a strong voice in the tribal government because the Shawnee honored women more than men.

The War Chief

One of the most well-known war chiefs was Tecumseh.  


The position of war chief was not hereditary. After the war chief died any Kishpoko could compete for the position. The competitors were given men underneath their leadership for the duration of three seperate village attacks. They had to prove themselves by gathering a scalp from each attack and arrive home without any of their warriors killed or injured. Than the man who could do this three times was said to be chosen by Our Grandmother to replace the war chief. A war chief could only come out of the Kishpoko division since these were the warriors of the Shawnee nation. Tecumseh's father was the principal war chief until his death when Tecumseh was still a boy. Tecumseh was too young at that time to fight for his father's position.

The war chief led the village during the times of war. He was also responsible for training all boys to become warriors and strong providers. Whenever the village was at war it would be the war chief who was in charge and not the peace chief. You could always tell the distinction between the chiefs because a war chief always wore a red tipped tomahawk on his hip. The war chief, like the peace chief, also answered to a principal chief and travelled in the summer to the a great council. Another responsibility of the war chief was to ensure law and order in the village. He was the emissary sent to other tribes to speak on behalf of his village. So more often, the Europeans, when they were encountering a village leader it was not the peace chief they were speaking too but the war chief. The war chief would not make a decision without consulting the peace chief first. This is why they rarely made a decision when speaking to the Europeans about anything. They would have to take the information back to the village, discuss it with the peace chief and council then deliver the decision to the tribe or Europeans. The Europeans did not understand this and often grew impatient waiting for their reply.



Like the peace chief, the war chief's wife also served beside her husband in the leadership of their people. Known as the war woman, she was responsible for examining the captives. If her husband was about to attack a village or kill a captive and she disapproved she could speak up against it. He could not act without her consent if she decided to protect them.

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