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Native Americans honored for role in Cuyahoga River history

Posted: 5:45 PM, Jun 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-19 18:07:06-04
Cuyahoga River history

GEAUGA COUNTY, Ohio — Fifty years have passed since the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, and on Wednesday, a four-day celebration of the anniversary began, with an event in Geauga County that honored Native American culture and history.

The Xtinguish Torchfest began at Headwaters Park in Geauga County on Wednesday afternoon with a dance performance by a Native American youth dance troupe.

Native American dance troupe

Marlys Rambeau, the chairperson of the Lake Erie Native American Council, said the troupe helps educate its audiences, performing across the region at "all kinds of events where people can see them in their native regalia and talk to them and ask questions."

Their performances, Rambeau said, help Native Americans share their culture with others.

"Just that people can see us and know that we’re still here," Rambeau said. "A lot of people: 'Natives? Didn’t know there was Indians. Thought you all were dead.' And no, we’re not."

Rambeau said she was thrilled to have native voices included in the Xtinguish Torchfest, acknowledging the role Native Americans played in Cuyahoga River history.

"It’s important because this river was a major thoroughfare for all the tribes in the area," Rambeau said. "It was used to transport people, transport goods."

Peter Bode, Central Lake Erie project manager for West Creek Conservancy, said the mission of the Torchfest and the Xtinguish Celebration in general was to "extinguish the past, and not just erasing it, but really extinguishing the negative narrative that is on this waterway."

Bode said it was also important to bring that history and culture into the future of the Cuyahoga River.

"The rich history of the Native Americans in this area is one that we don’t want to lose," Bode said.

While not much is known about the specific tribes that lived in northeast Ohio thousands of years ago, archaeology tells us how they lived. According to Dr. Brian Redmond, an archaeologist with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the cleanup of the Cuyahoga River has been critical in helping restore the river to something closer to its original state at the time Native Americans lived along its riverbanks.

"People were able to thrive in this area, again, for thousands of years, and it’s only in the most recent time that that’s changed, and I think we’re finally getting back to something a little more like it was in nature," Redmond said.

For Rambeau, getting to share how Native Americans contributed to the river's history means a lot.

"People were able to thrive in this area, again, for thousands of years, and it’s only in the most recent time that that’s changed, and I think we’re finally getting back to something a little more like it was in nature," Redmond said.

Rambeau said it hopes events like these will help educate Native American youth and help them learn more about their heritage and culture.