BlogAppalachia Life and Literature

Indigenous Appalachia

By July 11, 2024July 17th, 2024No Comments

July 10, 2024

What do you think of when you hear “the history of Appalachia?” You may look to the Scots-Irish, German, or other European colonial settlers and then trace lineage to rich immigrant cultures and labor struggles. You may even look to historically Black communities that have been kept out of the spotlight, already redefining what most think when they discuss the region. These common conceptions of Appalachia, though, are ultimately preceded by the original inhabitants of these hills and mountains: the plethora of Indigenous cultures, nations, and tribes who hold claim to all that we call home.

Two Cherokee Chiefs by George Catlin- The Cherokee are a prominent First Nation people who inhabited the lands in and surrounding the Appalachian region.

Out of the previous kaleidoscope of Indigenous groups that once lived throughout North America, the United States currently recognizes 574 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities. For these tribes and entities, there are approximately 326 Indian land areas in the U.S. administered as federal Indian reservations. But even with this federal recognition, the figures do not come close to estimates of Native population prior to colonization and the sheer spread of said populations across North America, as scholars have recently estimated 55 million Native deaths following the conquest of the Americas. 

This upcoming event promotes black, brown, and indigenous voices and offers workshops on cultural preservation and celebration.

Yet many Appalachians today find much pride in their deep roots to the region going back for hundreds of years, with the number of generations sometimes becoming a source of status, the displacement of Indigenous peoples and the theft of their land leading to such roots is an irrefutable facet of American and Appalachian history. Thus, we must be transparent and reflective about our presence on this land while also being supportive of contemporary tribal communities. 

How can we honor Indigenous Appalachia?

Within Appalachia today, there are only eight total recognized Native American Tribal Communities. A vast sea of other Indigenous groups still inhabit the region, though, and it’s up to us to learn about whose land we are inhabiting and how we can be supportive. Thankfully, there are networks of individuals and organizations who are leading the way for Native reparations and Indigenous sovereignty. 

At a university level, many who do work in Appalachia are amplifying Indigenous voices and histories, such as faculty and associates of the Ohio State University with their annual, native-led Mounds and Memory gathering. This year’s gathering placed a focus on the recent designation of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, giving the brilliance and ingenuity of the Hopewell Culture international recognition and greater protections. While the gatherings offer irreplaceable Indigenous perspectives on unjust histories and current issues, this year’s gathering featured other enlightening presentations on the impact of World Heritage designation and the truth of Land Grant/Grab universities, of which the Ohio State University shares status. This reflective and transparent approach is what is needed to grapple with our history while learning from it and moving forward with Indigenous reparations and sovereignty in mind. 

At an organizational level, Canadian nonprofit Native Land Digital provides a map of Earth complete with painted Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties for you to explore the nations and tribes of your own neck of the woods, also featuring an address search feature. In conjunction with the map, you can use Native Land Digital’s resource database to then find references to official tribal websites and information hubs. Further, Resource Generation provides a Land Reparations & Indigenous Solidarity Toolkit to provide guided reflection and directions to resources.

Overall, it is entirely in our hands to educate ourselves about the original peoples of the hollers we roam and support the remaining tribal communities and organizations that are still active in Appalachia today. Though many of our roots run deep in this region, none run deeper than the Indigenous who were here before us.