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Native American Cultural Legacies

Native heritage lives on in some surprising places.


Nikole Christensen
Published April 01, 2014

Polynesian Cultural Center

Laie, Hawaii

The Polynesian Cultural Center was created to preserve and share the culture and history of all Polynesian cultures, including that of native Hawaiians, a people that aren’t often associated with Native Americans but who are indigenous to the United States. In addition to Hawaiian culture, the center features villages and exhibits that tell the story of eight Polynesian cultures, among them the islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa and Tahiti.

Set on Oahu’s North Shore, the center offers a number of options for daytime visitors. Guests can tour the villages, interacting with native guides along the way who will demonstrate all manner of native skills from cooking to climbing coconut trees with bare feet and from hula dancing to playing native drums. The center also offers a tour of the islands’ beaches and scenic vistas, canoe tours and Imax theater presentations. Nighttime visitors can experience a traditional luau and see more pageantry in “Ha Breath of Life,” a dramatic show that features traditional dance and music.


‘Tecumseh’ Outdoor Drama

Chillicothe, Ohio

Conflicts between a young U.S. government and Native Americans were carried over from British colonial days, and a piece of that early history is retold each summer night through the outdoor dramatization of the life of Shawnee leader Tecumseh.

As a young man, Tecumseh witnessed many injustices committed against the Shawnee and neighboring tribes of the Ohio Valley in an effort to appease the land-hungry European settlers moving into the territory. He was determined to fight against these injustices and led his Shawnee warriors in campaigns during pivotal moments of  the country’s history.

The outdoor drama “Tecumseh” tells his story in the context of the times using dramatic elements like cannon fire, pyrotechnics, battle scenes and real horses riding across the stage to help modern visitors feel more like time travelers than theatergoers. The show was created in 1973 and was written by noted author Allan W. Eckert.

“We’ve cast Tecumseh as a tragic hero because his story embodies that of all the Native Americans who tried to resist the onslaught of Europeans into their lands,” said Marion Waggoner, the show’s producer. “His story really personifies so much of what was being done to try to save the land, the culture and the people.

“We tend to vilify and overglorify characters from history. But this story is a rather balanced view, even though it is told from a Native viewpoint,” said Waggoner. “We want the audience not to feel sorry or guilty, but to take away the realization that all people are created equal.”

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