In a marked departure from wampum, the traditional form of currency used for centuries in native transactions, it will take a symbolic step further. On July 30, the Shawnee Tribe will issue a silver dollar coin with the likeness of its famous chief, Tecumseh.
“The coins are not legal tender,” Gary Pitcher, the tribe’s director of economic development, told Indian Country Today. A value, in this case one dollar, was put on the coins “because they would be more collectable.” Certain media reports have described the coins as “legal tender on Shawnee lands,” which they are not.
Instead, the silver dollar is meant as a commemorative issue, honoring the Shawnees’ legal separation, in 2000, from the Cherokee Nation after 135 years of union.
On the obverse, “heads,” is a handsome bust of the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh, with the dates of his life, 1763-1813, inscribed below his chin. The reverse features the tribal seal; the large star represents Tecumseh while the 12 smaller stars stand for the original 12 clans of the Shawnee tribe. The seal is surrounded by the words “The Sovereign Nation of the Shawnee Tribe 2002.” The silver dollar contains one ounce of pure silver. Coins of other denominations and designs may be minted in subsequent years.
Since no known portrait of Tecumseh exists, Pitcher said that the image on the coin was based upon previous artists’ renditions and written descriptions of the chief’s appearance.
Pitcher said that the minting and issuance of other coins will depend on how collectors receive the Tecumseh dollar. A mint in Iowa will produce some 70,000 of the silver dollars, which will be available through private dealers.
A great meteor shower occurred on the night of Tecumseh’s birth, giving him the moniker “Shooting Star.” This sign was an omen to tribal elders, who prophesized that he would become a great chief.
The Shawnee people originally dwelt in what is now Ohio. As their chief, Tecumseh sought to resist European encroachment into the old Northwest Territories by uniting the region’s Indian nations and refusing to sell land held in common by the tribes to individual white settlers.
“No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers,” Tecumseh said. “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn’t the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? We gave them forest-clad mountains and valleys full of game, and in return what did they give our warriors and our women? Rum, trinkets and a grave.”
Tecumseh fought as a brigadier general on the side of the British during the War of 1812 and was killed in combat at the Battle of the Thames in Chatham, Ontario in 1813.
The new coin is not the first one to feature Native people or symbols. The U.S. government has, on several occasions throughout its history, minted coins with Indian images. The Buffalo nickel, produced between 1913 and 1938, and the Indian head penny, minted from 1858 through 1909, both once in wide circulation, are perhaps the most famous examples. The more recent Sacagawea dollar coin, which debuted with great fanfare in January 2000, has neither been widely accepted nor used by the American public.