'It's our homeland;' How 3 Shawnee tribes helped shape Ohio's newest state park

Jun. 7—XENIA TWP., Greene County — Great Council State Park opened its doors to the public Friday, welcoming a crowd of a few hundred visitors to Ohio State Parks' newest attraction.

In attendance were representatives of the three Shawnee tribes whose work with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources brought Ohio's 76th state park to life.

"It's impossible to describe how I feel, but it is marvelous. I wholeheartedly endorse it," said Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Great Council State Park is located along U.S. 68 in Xenia Twp, in what used to be called "Old Chillicothe," a vibrant Shawnee town founded in the 1770s and led by Chief Blackfish. The park was developed alongside three federally recognized Shawnee tribes — the Shawnee Tribe, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.

"Governor DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine, Ohio History Connection, as well as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources are all an example of how to do the job right of conducting government-to-government conversations with tribal nations. They are to be commended," said Shawnee Chief Ben Barnes.

"Those relationships are continuing to develop and become more fruitful. This is one example," Barnes said, adding that the World Heritage Site designation for Ohio's Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, located in Chillicothe and Oregonia, is another.

Builders, curators and ODNR staff spent "tremendous" amounts of time talking with all three tribes, Wallace said.

"We've had Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting," she said. "There have been times that we have disagreed with what has been said, and it's been a spirit of cooperation and it has worked beautifully."

Great Council's interpretive center is a 12,000-square-foot modern interpretation of a council house, the primary gathering place and traditional dwelling in a 1700s Shawnee village. Inside, visitors will find a living stream, complete with bluegills, crawdads, and other aquatic life for children to touch, a theater, and three floors of both artistic and interactive exhibits that depict the lives of the Shawnee and early settlers in the 1770s.

In addition, sculptor Alan Cottrill unveiled a statue of Tecumseh on Friday, based on one of the very first depictions of the 18th century chief, warrior and orator. Tecumseh was born near the site of the state park in 1768.

The center also includes often-overlooked elements of the Shawnee as a vibrant culture and people that persist to this day.

"We have always said that we love Ohio. We've always said that it is in our hearts, and it's our homeland," Wallace said. "What we would like is for people to re-examine history and to realize that we did not leave voluntarily. We did not want to leave."

"People have been taught that we are dead, and that we don't exist and that we were savages. World heritage proved we were not savages, and that our ancestors were, in fact geniuses. I would like that to be the story that is told," she added.

As the park continues to develop, the trails behind the museum will allow visitors to walk down to the Little Miami River, through prairie grass and past vegetable gardens growing the "three sisters:" corn, beans and squash.

"It will be interesting to children, and it's interesting to adults," Wallace said. "There's something there for everyone."

Additionally, a bridge over U.S. 68 from the Xenia bike path to Great Council State Park is in the works, though it is still very much in the planning stages, Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday.

The hours for Great Council State Park are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The center is closed Monday and Tuesday.

"I'm thankful for this day, I'm thankful for the weather. The turnout is magnificent," Wallace said.