I am reprinting this short essay today because I am looking for reader feedback
Left: 1616 engraving of Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe
A recent survey of 57 students in a survey-level history course at the University of Toledo provided interesting data on the general awareness of this sample group toward the history of indigenous peoples who formerly populated Northwest Ohio. For the purposes of the study, students who were raised outside the rough parameters of “Northwest and Northern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan” were eliminated from the analysis, since they would ostensibly have less connection to the history of the area. The remaining students, who numbered 49, were asked to name any Native American groups that they believed once lived in this region.
While the survey size was relatively small, the results provided some meaningful data. Nearly 37% of respondents could not name any Native American group, or felt compelled to jot down answers outside the purview of the survey. Approximately 22% of respondents answered with a Native American group, such as the Seminoles, that did not have a direct historic connection with the region in and around Northwest Ohio. Only 20% of respondents could name 2 or more Native American groups. Finally, out of 49 respondents, exactly zero could name the Potawatomi as a group of people who once populated the Great Black Swamp and surrounding areas.
The recollections that students had from childhood, pop culture, and secondary schools provide insights into the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of social studies curricula in regional schools. Students were much more likely to recall information on Native American groups from movies than from secondary schools.
Not surprisingly, students most frequently noted the Disney film “Pocahontas” as their number one source for information about Native Americans. In fact, over 42% of survey respondents claimed that their secondary schools provided little or no instruction on Native American history or culture, or that they have no recollection of this material being presented to them. A number of students pointedly chastised their schools for a curricular focus that was almost entirely 20th century and American in its coverage of history.
While the sample size in this survey was small, the results unquestionably indicate a general lack of awareness among college students on the indigenous peoples who lived in Ohio.
The questions now before us: Should we care, and should we rely on the Disney Corporation to provide education on Native Americans?
What does the history of indigenous peoples mean for neo-European Americans?