Chief Glenna J. Wallace: Leader of the Seventh Generation

Chief Glenna J. Wallace: Leader of the Seventh Generation

By Madison Good, Professional Writing Intern, The Ohio State University

In 2006, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma elected their first female chief in the tribe’s modern history, Chief Glenna J. Wallace. At her swearing-in ceremony, she recalled her tribe’s heritage, quoting famed Shawnee chief Tecumseh. “‘Tecumseh said “The seventh generation shall bring my people back.” I am honored to say I am part of that generation…This is our time,’” she declared. “’We have such a promising future for this tribe…it scares me, and it also excites me.’”[1], [2]
The Eastern Shawnee Tribe is one of three Shawnee tribes recognized by the United States government, the others being the Shawnee Tribe and the Absentee Shawnee. Before the early 1700s, Eastern Shawnee lived throughout the Midwest, eventually settling in western Ohio. At this time, the Eastern Shawnee was known as the Mixed Band, together with the modern Seneca Cayuga tribe.  In 1817, the Mixed Band was designated reserve land in northwestern Ohio, before they were forcibly removed with the passage of the 1832 Indian Removal Act. The Mixed Band was the first tribe in Ohio to be removed to Indian Territory in modern day Oklahoma. This 800-mile journey was made on foot, and over fifteen percent of the population died on the way. After a second removal and return to Indian Territory after the Civil War, the Mixed Band was officially separated into the Eastern Shawnee and the Seneca Cayuga. By 1900, the tribe had less than 70 members.

Despite being born into the Eastern Shawnee tribe, Chief Wallace was not raised as what she calls a “traditional Indian.”[3] Following decades of forced assimilation and the near eradication of her tribe, the Eastern Shawnee experienced a cultural dormancy. Many did not participate in traditional practices, including Chief Wallace and her family. It was only when she moved out of Oklahoma and spent several years as a migrant worker on the West Coast that she gathered a concept of what it meant to be an American Indian, including what it meant to be othered, looked down upon. She recalls, “Everywhere I went, when I went to school, I was immediately asked to say who I was…I didn’t get to say who I was, they labelled me. I was from Oklahoma…I was an Indian…I was a migrant worker. Put those three facts together, and when I walked in the door of a classroom, I was automatically put to the lowest level.”[4] Yet her experiences also taught her valuable life lessons; “I learned to set goals, work towards those goals, develop a work ethic, and think long-range…I realized the value, self-worth, and confidence that come from those achievements.”[5]

When she returned to Oklahoma at the age of twelve, Chief Wallace’s father was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine and was unable to provide for their family. She was struck with the realization that her mother was simply out of options, having only a tenth-grade education and five children to care for. She remembers, “I looked at my mother, and the sentence that came to my mind was that ‘She has no options. This is not going to be my life.’”[6] So she made sure it wasn’t. After graduating high school, Chief Wallace drove a 120-mile round trip every day to attend Pittsburg State University in Missouri where she obtained three degrees. Impressed with her work ethic and strong desire to support her students, Crowder College in Missouri approached her with a job offer in their communications department. Chief Wallace accepted and taught there for over 38 years.

During her time at Crowder College, Chief Wallace worked to increase diversity and allow for both her students and her community and tribal members to experience the world. She helped to establish student and teacher exchange programs and spent time teaching in England and Australia. The study abroad trips she helped to create remained open to the local public, allowing people the opportunity to travel when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. It was on these trips that she first visited World Heritage sites and learned their global and personal importance. These experiences would lay a foundation for her later focus on cultural revival work.

In the mid-1980s, the Eastern Shawnee opened their first gaming enterprise, and Chief Wallace worked at her sister’s concessions stand on the weekends. This introduction to the tribal environment allowed her to see that, while the current leaders were doing the best they could, “back in the 70’s and 80’s, most Business Committee members, like my father, did not have the opportunity to attain advanced education and if I could be of service to the tribe, I wanted to do that.”[7] At the end of the decade, she was elected to the Eastern Shawnee Tribal Business Committee, a position she held for 18 years.

By 2006, Chief Wallace had become an active member of her tribe, and her reputation as a hard worker, an effective speaker and a supporter of education and culture became known to the community at large. Throughout the summers of the early 2000s, she travelled with Chautauqua, teaching across the country. In 2000, the Missouri Humanities Council sought her out to represent the Shawnee people in the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. She continued to work at Crowder College in various directorial positions, including Department Chair of Communications and Interim Academic Dean while simultaneously working for and promoting her tribe. In 2006, with a final vote count of 341-212, Chief Wallace became the first woman to be elected as chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. She ran on a platform which emphasized not only infrastructure and economic growth, but cultural growth as well.

Since her election, Chief Wallace has worked to achieve her campaign promises and fulfill Tecumseh’s hope for their tribe. The Eastern Shawnee opened two additional gaming facilities under her leadership, among other economic enterprises. Along with others, she supported the development of a broad educational program which includes generous scholarships. Perhaps most important has been her work to regain Eastern Shawnee cultural practices and heritage. From Shawnee language workshops and craftwork classes to Powwows and History Summits, Chief Wallace has been integral in promoting active participation of tribal members in tribal culture.

Recently, she has worked with the state of Ohio and Ohio History Connection to protect the many earthworks and mounds present in Ohio. In a speech for Ohio Statehood Day in 2019, she spoke on the legacy of American Indian cultural sites in Ohio and bemoaned the lack of importance and respect that has been given to them. “Why had I never read anything about Newark Earthwork Mounds?” she asked. “Because you here in Ohio didn’t even realize the treasures that you had. Because you didn’t write about them. Because you didn’t understand what you had…We shouldn’t be playing golf on top of sacred spiritual Indian mounds. We should recognize the treasures that we have here in Ohio, and we should realize that the people who built those were not savages.”[8] She similarly implored the return of the remains of American Indian ancestors in museum collections, asking that a place be found in Ohio for their ancestors to be buried and put to rest.

Octagon-Earthworks.jpgAerial view of the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, Ohio, 1920s-1930s.

Throughout her life, Chief Wallace has found that hard work and education can get you far, but it is connection to one’s heritage, one’s culture which allows you to go even farther. She hopes to continue working hard to regain, promote and protect Eastern Shawnee history culture long into the future, and to bring her people back to greatness.

***
Works Cited
Hively, Kay. “The Chief’s Report…”Shooting Star, issue 12 (2006): 2, 22. url:
https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll27/id26715/rec/5
Stogsdil, Sheila. “Eastern Shawnee Tribe Swears in First Female Chief,” Shooting Star, issue 12
(2006): 5, url: https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll27/id/26718/rec/5
Wallace, Glenna. Meet Native America: Glenna J. Wallace, Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of
Oklahoma, interview by National Museum of the American Indian, May 6, 2016, Accessed October 4, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20160512005438/https://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2016/05/meet-native-america-glenna-wallace-html.
Wallace, Glenna. Speech given at Ohio Statehood Day 2019, Columbus, OH, February 27, 2019.

Works Referenced
“About the Eastern Shawnee Tribe,” Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, accessed October 4,
2021, https://estoo-nsn.gov/eastern-shawnee-history.
“Glenna Wallace 2006-Present,” Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, accessed October 4,
2021, https://estoo-nsn.gov/chiefs-past-and-present/glenna-wallace.
Pember, Mary Annette. “Shawnee reclaim the great Serpent Mound,” last modified June 21,
2021, https://indiancountrytoday/com/shawnee-reclaim-great-serpent-mound
Wallace, Glenna. “The Chief’s Report… Candidates for Chief: Glenna J. Wallace” Shooting Star,
issue 7 (2006): 5, url:
https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll27/id/27063/rec/10


[1] Sheila Stogsdil “Eastern Shawnee Tribe Swears in First Female Chief,” Shooting Star, issue 12 (2009): 5.
[2] Kay Hively “The Chief’s Report…”Shooting Star, issue 12 (2009): 2, 22.
[3] Glenna Wallace, speech, Ohio Statehouse, February 27, 2019.
[4] Glenna Wallace, speech, Ohio Statehouse, February 27, 2019.
[5] Glenna Wallace, interview by Dennis Zotigh, Meet Native America, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, May 6, 2016.
[6] Glenna Wallace, speech, Ohio Statehouse, February 27, 2019.
[7] Glenna Wallace, email message to author, November 1, 2021.
[8] Glenna Wallace, speech, Ohio Statehouse, February 27, 2019.
Posted November 9, 2021
Topics: American Indian History

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