A Brief History of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma

February 15, 2012

The sovereign Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is based in Miami, Oklahoma in the northeastern corner of the state.  The population of the Nation is just over 5,000, and citizens can be found living in  47 states as well as outside the boundaries of the United States.  The Tribe’s population is concentrated in northeastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, and northern Indiana.  This reflects the historical experiences of a tribe that suffered a series of forced removals from our historic homelands – in what became the states of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan – to lands lying west of the Mississippi in what would become the state of Kansas, and then from Kansas to Indian Territory, which later became the state of Oklahoma.

In our language, the Miami Tribe’s name for ourselves is Myaamia, which means  “the Downstream People.” Our story begins at a place we call Saakiiweeyonki, near where the St. Joseph’s River empties into Lake Michigan.  At some point in our distant past, our ancestors first emerged onto our homelands at Saakiiweeyonki.

From the village at Saakiiweeyonki, they descended into the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi (Wabash River) valley building communities at major confluences and portages from Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne, Indiana) downstream to Aciipihkahkionki (Vincennes, Indiana).  Together these villages maintained a common language, hunting and farming cultural practices.  They often came together to collectively defend themselves and negotiate peace with neighboring tribes and Europeans.

Over generations, the Myaamia extended their cultural roots deep into the soil of the Wabash River Valley.  The people drew their sustenance from the wetlands, prairies, woodlands, river bottomlands, and the plants and animals that lived in these places.  During the long summers, villages grew miincipi (corn) and other vegetables.  They dried, processed, and stored these agricultural products to last throughout the year.  The men of the villages helped in minor ways with the farming, but most of their time was spent hunting moohswa (White Tailed Deer), lenaswa (Bison), miihšiiwa (Eastern Elk), and the wide variety of smaller animals and birds that populated the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi and the hunting grounds to the east and west.  During the winter, larger villages broke into smaller hunting bands and moved into winter camps located on or near the hunting grounds.  In the early spring, the women and children moved to the sugar maple groves to collect sap and process the liquid into maple sugar that they ate, stored, and traded.  Following the return of warmer weather, the Myaamia began their agricultural cycle again with the clearing and planting of their fields.

These vital cycles of planting, harvesting, hunting, gathering, and processing governed the lives of the Myaamia for generations.  The rhythms of these cycles reflect an ecologically-based existence in an ancestral homeland we call Myaamionki (Place of the Miamis).  For the Myaamia, our land and the ability to care for our basic needs is the foundation of communal life, and is the basis of our physical and mental health as a people.

Myaamionki has always been vital in sustaining our community.  Our lands continue to serve as the place by which our language and cultural practices sustain the general wellbeing of our people.  Our language and culture are essential in preserving our unique worldview and indigenous knowledge system for future generations. Our identity as a people is intrinsically tied to the places we call home historically and today.

Our ancestors’ lives in our homelands shifted dramatically in the generations following first contact with Europeans and the birth of the United States of America.  In 1846, half of the six hundred or so Myaamia – who had survived the years of war, disease, and settlement perpetrated by the newcomers – were forcibly removed from our homelands and settled west of the Mississippi on lands in Indian Territory (current day Kansas).  These lands were not the wooded river valleys of the northern Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi, but over time the tall grass prairies west of the Mihsisiipiwi (Mississippi River) became home.  Along the watershed of the Marais des Cygnes River, the Myaamiaki rebuilt their homes, planted their corn, and hunted deer and bison as they always had. As Myaamia people worked to transform this new place into Myaamionki (the Place of the Miami), new groups of settlers began pressuring the Myaamiaki to give up our lands and move yet again.

From the end of the 1860s into the 1870s, many Myaamiaki were forced to leave their homes in Kansas and move to new lands to the south in Indian Territory (current-day Oklahoma).  In northeastern Oklahoma, Myaamiaki were graciously allowed to find a new home on lands that the Osage and Quapaw people had called their own for generations.  In addition to living with the Quapaw and Osage, the Myaamia found themselves living next to other tribes who were originally from the Great Lakes region: the Wyandot, Peoria, Ottawa, Seneca-Cayuga, and Shawnee.

Northeastern Oklahoma is the seat of government for the sovereign nation of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.  However, all of the lands where the Miami have lived over time are still referred to as “Myaamionki” (the Place of the Myaamia).  The Nation maintains a 1,400-acre land base and many tribal businesses in and around Miami, OK.  Through its land base and businesses, the Miami Tribe seeks the resources necessary to care for its elderly and young people and to maintain the integrity, both cultural and political, of the Nation.

Today, our Nation is a strong and vibrant community.  We share a common history, but we are not a people trapped in the past.  Instead, we work diligently to make choices and changes built solidly on the foundation passed to us by our predecessors.  If you have the opportunity to visit us in Miami, Oklahoma know that you well be greeted as an honored guest with open and generous arms. “piintikiilo neehi wiitapimiloome” (come in and sit with us!)

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