© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Know Ohio: Native American Footprint

Anna Huntsman talks about the Native American Nations that shaped the state of Ohio. She points out features in Ohio that still bear Native names, including Chillicothe and the Cuyahoga River.

Class Discussion Questions:

1) Are there any examples of things in your community named for Ohio's Native Americans?

Read the Script:

Every time I take a roadtrip through Ohio, I always like reading the names of the cities, towns and landmarks I pass… Cleveland, Toledo, Chillicothe.

 And then I wonder … How did this place get its name?

Well, many of the names of Ohio cities, lakes, rivers, and landmarks have Native American origins.

But when we say Native Americans, we're not talking about one uniform culture. We're actually talking about a diverse group of tribes and civilizations scattered across the present-day United States.

In fact,  the word Ohio itself actually comes from the Iroquois Nation. In the 1600s, before colonization, Iroquois was a powerful civilization made up of five different tribes. They were conquerors who spread across present-day New York, Pennsylvania, and eventually pushed their way into the rich Ohio Valley.

They called the river that separates Ohio and Kentucky the Ohi-yo, which means roughly, great creek. And our state took its name from there. It was also the Iroquois that named the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. In the Iroquois language, Cuyahoga means crooked river. And given the way it winds through Cleveland, that's a pretty accurate description, if you ask me.

Southwestern Ohio is home to the prestigious Miami University and two large rivers, the Great Miami and the Little Miami. All take their name from the Miami people, a group of tribes that migrated south into Ohio in about the 1700s. The Miami civilization spread across portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Their language is Algonquin. After a series of wars led by Chief Little Turtle at the end of the 1700s, the Miami people eventually were forced out of Ohio by European settlers.

The Miami people are allied with the Shawnee Nation, and it's this tribe that gave the city Piqua, Ohio its name. To the Shawnee, Piqua, or Pekowi, means a man coming out of the ashes, which is part of the tribe's creation myth that says man was born out of the smoke and ashes from an ancient fire.

The Shawnee are also responsible for one of my personal favorite city names, Chillicothe. It's so fun to say, and it's derived from the Shawnee word Chalahgawtha, which means principal place because Chillicothe was where the Shawnee tribe leadership lived.

There are many more interesting native Ohio civilizations that shaped our state. So next time you travel across our state, keep an eye out for some of Ohio's most interesting names. They're often reminders of our state’s native past.