Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Histories At Odds During First "Anthony Wayne Day" Celebration

Rebecca Green
Northeast Indiana Public Radio/WBOI

On Tuesday celebrations took place around the city of Fort Wayne for the first Anthony Wayne Day. But the creation of the event has led to concerns over its cultural sensitivity, as well as the historical accuracy of the information on which it was founded.

During the February 26 meeting of the Fort Wayne City Council, 4th District Republican councilman Jason Arp opened the proceedings with a 15-minute presentation to set the stage for resolution R19-02-12 -- declaring July 16 “Anthony Wayne Day” in the city.

In his presentation, Arp enthusiastically shared stories about Wayne’s valor and leadership upon the founding of Fort Wayne in the 1790s, largely sourced from the 2004 book "Bayonets in the Wilderness" by Fort Wayne-born author and historian Alan D. Gaff.

He concluded by noting the celebration was a way for residents to learn more about the city’s history.

“I think he’s given us some stuff we can look up to: bravery, determination, persistence, patience, and lastly mercy, as he had shown to the defeated Miami and Shawnee at the Battle of Fallen Timbers,” said Arp.

To that point, Arp said he hadn’t received any negative comments, but sought to get ahead of any criticism that may come his or Council’s way after passage.

“There’s lots of people that don’t care for America or American history,” he said. “There are people that aren’t patriotic, and that’s their right, obviously.”

Democratic 6th District councilman Glynn Hines took exception to that defense, calling it a “misnomer.”

“I think you have patriotic individuals who have served that would still, if they had Native American ancestry, would be somewhat offended by the idea of recognizing the specific date,” Hines said.

Hines was one of three Council members to oppose the measure. He was a history major at Manchester University, and noted that he was “taken aback” by the proposal, saying it didn’t appear sympathetic toward Native American tribes that were negatively affected by Wayne’s actions in battle.

“What you refer to as the wilderness, they refer to as their homes, and there were many Native American nations that existed, and I thought rather than negotiating for land or purchasing land, the option that was chosen was to take the land,” he added.

Republican at-large councilman Michael Barranda voted to approve the measure, defending the educational aspect of such a celebration.

“Things that I learned tonight were both good and bad about General Mad Anthony Wayne, and I think that’s what these things do is start a discussion and allow us to talk about our history so that we can learn from it,” said Barranda. “And when we stop doing that, we stop learning.”

The resolution eventually passed 6-3.

One month later, Chief Douglas Lankford of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma issued a statement to Council. He expressed “disappointment and disbelief” and commented on the “socially contemptible and historically inaccurate presentation given in the presence of community citizens,” noting a group of Boy Scouts present at the meeting.

The Tribe’s cultural resources office also provided a three-page historical review of the presentation, saying it “furthers misunderstanding of critical events central to the history of the city of Fort Wayne.”

Dr. Nicky Belle is the director of Indiana University’s First Nations Educational & Cultural Center. He agrees that the resolution as passed distorts history to one, lone viewpoint.

Belle says members of the Miami and Shawnee tribes would view Wayne much differently from the patient, merciful person Arp depicted.

“For many of these groups, Anthony Wayne is known as a butcher, as known as someone who worked who actively to kill those people,” said Belle.

According to Belle, the event as presented fails to acknowledge this. He countered the idea that the event serves as a jumping off point for discussion, because there was no collaboration on the measure between the local government and the tribes affected by Wayne’s actions.

He added, however, that collaboration now or in the future, remains an option.

“When groups who were historically not working together or were opposed to each other can come together and talk about things and reframe that into a new context which brings all of the voices to the table, and it’s not just the same history being told by the same people that doesn’t include other people’s histories, it could have a positive impact,” he said.

Stephanie Henry -- of no relation to Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry -- is a Northeast Indiana resident who attended the meeting and opposed the resolution. She echoed that sentiment, saying it’s important to address all perspectives in history, instead of just one.

Here’s Henry in February.

“As the descendent of African American people and Native American people, I think we can do better and we should do better as a community in educating,” said Henry. “I think the story of Anthony Wayne should be told, but I think the story of the rest of the American people and Indigineous people in this region should be told equally as well.”

Belle -- who works with education and outreach on Native issues at IU’s Bloomington campus -- says the one-sided nature of the resolution can have widespread effects to local Native populations.

“In a town named for Anthony Wayne, every day is Anthony Wayne Day, right? So to double down on that just makes these students -- the ones I work with -- when they see this they’re like, ‘Man, is anybody listening to us? It’s like we don’t even matter, that we’re invisible, that it’s all part of the colonial designed route to erasure,” Belle said.

Another party absent from the overall discussion was Fort Wayne’s History Center. Officials with the group told WBOI it hadn’t been contacted about Anthony Wayne Day at all, but “would eagerly participate in a ‘Mad Anthony Wayne Day’ that reflects the historical record.”

Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered, and hosted Morning Edition for the past few years. In 2022, he was promoted to Content Director.