This will be the second article in the genealogy section of our community blog. The purpose of writing these articles is to educate and inform the Myaamia community about the important  people and families that make up our past. As Myaamia people, we usually connect ourselves to one or more of our ancestors to define our family. But oftentimes we know very little about the other families and the other leaders that made up our community throughout history. In writing these blog posts we hope to not only inform about our past leaders, but also stimulate interest in learning more about different Myaamia people or families.

Akima Neewilenkwanka was born around 1800 as part of Waapeehsipana’s (White Raccoon’s) band. In 1826, ten sections of land were set aside for Waapeehsipana’s village along Neekawikamiiki Siipiiwi (the Aboite River) near Columbia City. Most likely it was in that village along Neekawikamiiki Siipiiwi that Neewilenkwanka grew up.

Neewilenkwanka grew up in time when our land base was still relatively intact and Myaamia language and culture was seen all across Indiana. Growing up, he would have participated in all the activities of the young boys in a traditional Myaamia village. He would have played games that helped prepare boys for a life as hunters. One particular game that was played with bow and arrow consisted of someone throwing a ball, which was formed out of twisted bark, into the air and the shooter would try to hit the ball with an arrow while it was in the air.

As a young boy, he would have been expected to go into the woods for a period of fasting and prayer in order to find his path in life. Charles Trowbridge, an ethnographer who worked with our community in the 1820s, says that children are “taught to fast for a whole winter, nay, oftentimes six months. He rises very early in the morning, blacks himself and goes out to hunt or to play, without eating. At first he fasts until noon, and at length until night.”[1] He would have blackened his entire  face with charcoal and waited for a dream to come to him which would guide him to decide his path in life. This would have been something that he would reflect on throughout his life.

This would have occurred during a turbulent time for Myaamia communities while the War of 1812 was beginning. Myaamia people were put in a difficult position during this period. Our leaders who lived through the Mihši-maalhsa Wars (Northwestern Indian Wars) were unwilling to join Tecumseh against the United States, while at the same time the United States grouped all tribes together as enemies of the state. This led to invasions of Myaamionki (place of the Miami) by American forces throughout the area, which caused many Myaamia people to flee southward towards the villages on Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi (the Mississinewa River). It’s possible that his family were part of these refugee groups. Regardless, this kind of warfare would have had an intense impact on him and how he acted as an akima.

As a young adult, Neewilenkwanka became an akima of his own village and in the treaties of 1834 and 1838 he received two reserves along Neekawikamiiki Siipiiwi, across the river from Waapeehsipana’s village between Wiipicahkionki (Huntington) and Kiihkayonki (Fort Wayne). Not surprisingly, the bands living in that area were often referred to as Neekawikamiaki (the Aboite River People). In 1830 & 1831 he represented 20 Myaamia people, who were most likely the inhabitants of his village, for an annuity collection.Bigleg

These are approximations of where Waapeehsipana and Neewilenkwanka’s Reserves were located based on maps from the 19th century. Other reservees on this map include Francis and Louis Lafontaine, Seek, and Louison Godfroy. 

One of the more infamous stories about Neewilenkwanka involved one of the first trials of a Myaamia person in the American legal system. In 1830, Neewilenkwanka was arrested for the murder of a Myaamia woman from his village. According to the newspaper reports at the time, the woman had stolen from him and fled to Fort Wayne where Bigleg had killed her. In a letter from trader William Ewing to John Tipton, the Myaamia woman also had African ancestry and Neewilenkwanka claimed her as his slave. However, we don’t know how much of that was his own thoughts or if the claims that she was his slave was influenced by American thoughts on race at the time. He was convicted by a jury in Fort Wayne and was sentenced to death by hanging. Supposedly, Bigleg didn’t know what a hanging was and after being shown a dog Bigleg decided that he’d rather be shot. Luckily, thanks to his interpreters, Pinšiwa (John B. Richardville) and Soowilencihsia (John B. Bourie), he was pardoned by the governor of Indiana.

While in Indiana he married a myaamiihkwia named Kiišikohkwa (Nancy), who was the granddaughter of Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle) and the sister of Kiilhsoohkwa (Margaret Revarre). And he had at least five children: Awansaapia (John B. Bigleg), Awanohkamihkwa (Susan Bigleg Benjamin Medicine), Lenipinšihkwa (Sally Bigleg Wea Shapp), Ciinkweensa, and Margaret. However, at this point it is unclear if all these children were with Kiišikohkwa or with another woman as multiple marriages were very common in this time period. 

In 1846, Bigleg and his family were part of the group that experienced our forced removal from our homelands in Indiana to a new reservation in Waapankiaakamionki (Eastern Kansas) on canal boats.

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“List of Miamies Emigrating from Peru, IN” written by Joseph Sinclair in Evansville, Indiana  on the Steamboat Colorado (Oct 14, 1846)

It was during this time that Bigleg became an indispensable leader for our community. Because of Akima Toopia’s (Francis Lafontaine) sudden death a few months after removal, a man named Oonseentia was elected as akima. However, he appeared to have died in 1848, only two years later. It is at this point that Neewilenkwanka was elected akima in a community that was still struggling to recover from removal.

Much of the information about the first few years in Kansas have been lost, but one story that has survived comes to us from a Myaamia man name Šowapinamwa (Oliver Farrand) in a letter to his cousin, William Wells Wolcott. In this letter he says that he received his Myaamia name from Neewilenkwanka in Kansas in exchange for a bottle of whiskey. While Oliver says in the letter that he wasn’t sure if it counted, he continued to use that as his Myaamia name throughout his life.

While we can now look back upon this story as humorous, it also reveals some of our darker history. During this time alcoholism and violence caused by alcohol was rampant throughout our community. And while we were faced with these hardships, we also strived together as a community to move forward and build ourselves up.

This is exemplified by Bigleg in the same period when he led the Tribal negations with the Federal Government in 1853 along with a  council made up of Mahkateeciinkwia (Little Doctor), Lenipinšia (Jack Hackley), Soowilencihsia (John B. Bourie), and Awansaapia (John B. Bigleg). Also present were several individual Myaamia people from Indiana who wished to discuss annuity payments in Indiana. This led to the treaty that agreed to the allotment of our Kansas reservation with 200 acres being given to each individual, and the excess land to be sold off to the white squatters. While he died in 1858, he was still given an allotment posthumously in 1859 that was inherited by his wife and his son, Awansaapia. 

Awansaapia served as akima from 1862 until his death in 1867 in Iihkipihsinonki (Peru, Indiana) while on his way to Meetaathsoopionki (Washington D.C.), and was buried in the Godfroy Cemetery outside of Peru on the Godfroy Reserve. In 1873, Neewilenkwanka’s wife, Nancy, and his daughter, Susan, elected to maintain their tribal citizenship and removed to Noošonke Siipiionki (Indian Territory), where Susan was allotted on the shared Miami & Peoria Reservation.

Akima Neewilenkwanka helped lead our community through one of the darkest periods in our history and it was though his leadership, and others like him, that we remain today a strong and sovereign nation.

Our hope is that these articles begin to encourage community participation and interest in their family and genealogy. If you have any ideas or suggestions for the subject of the next article, please email me at jbickers@miamination.com. Neewe.

[1] Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 56.

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Over time, Myaamia people have lived in a wide variety dwelling types. The traditional home of the Myaamia is called wiikiaami (click to hear pronuncation).  A wiikiaami is a domed structure that could be covered in cattail reed mats or bark depending on the season. Often these were also lined with bulrush mats, which were decorated. The layers of mats created an insulated space, which kept these dwellings warm and dry. Wiikiaami is often called a wigwam in English. Today, wiikiaami is a word that Myaamia people can use for any house or dwelling.

kiikapwa wiikiaami

This Kickapoo wiikiaami is like those still built by Myaamia people. The image shows the layers of cattail mats used to keep homes warm and dry.

wiikiaami 2011

This wiikiaami was built by Myaamia people as a part of the Eewansaapita youth program in 2011. The cattail mats were provided by Dani Tippman. The group did not have enough to cover the roof, so a canvas tarp was used instead.

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How has Myaamia (Miami Indian) clothing changed over time?

Myaamia clothing – like the clothing of all cultural groups – has changed a lot over time.  These changes have been affected by the availability of resources, shifts in technology, and radical shifts in our historical and cultural circumstances.

In the post contact period, Myaamia people began to wear items made from various trade cloths: wool, linen, silk, and cotton.  Some of the clothes made from trade cloth were reserved for special events like treaty negotiations, funerals, and community dances.  Other items, like cloth shirts, were worn more frequently.[1] These newer materials were used in combination with hides, which they continued to wear for leggings and moccasins.  Myaamia people also perfected a unique form of ribbonwork that created complicated geometric patterns through the layering and cutting of silk ribbons.  These ribbonworked strips were appliquéd onto moccasins, leggings, woolen wrap blankets, wrap skirts, and bags.  You can see a few examples of the Myaamia style of ribbonwork by searching “ribbon” at the Myaamia Exhibit home page.

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mahkisina – silk ribbon, wool, and beads on hide. From the early 1800s collected in Indiana. This pair of moccasins is currently held by the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

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If you are interested in seeing more images of clothing from the early 1800s, see the book: “Indians and a Changing Frontier the Art of George Winter” (see endnotes).  You can also find many of Winter’s paintings online here and here.  You can see other examples of the clothing in paintings by another artist – James Otto Lewis – by searching “Miami chief” on the Indiana Historical Society’s images database.

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By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Myaamia people’s daily clothing did not differ much from the settlers who surrounded them.  For an example of this, see the images of our leaders who visited Washington D.C. in the late 1800s by searching “Miami Indian” on the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center.  However, for special occasions like weddings, funerals, feasts, and public performances, Myaamia people continued to wear the combination of wool, cotton, and hide decorated with ribbonwork that was developed in the trade era.

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J.B. Roubideaux (left) and David Geboe (right) were photographed while visiting Washington D.C. in the late 1800s. In this photo, their clothing was probably representative of their “Sunday best,” and it would have looked similar to other 19th century visitors to the capital.

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Today, the daily clothing of most Myaamia people does not differ all that much from our neighbors.  But on special occasions like social dances, political gatherings, weddings, funerals, parades, and other community gatherings many Myaamia people still wear a combination of wool, cotton, and hide decorated with beadwork and or ribbonwork.

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These full sets of Women’s and Men’s Regalia by Larry Daylight represent the style that evolved during the fur trade and continues to be utilitzed by Myaamia people.

Lacrosse game at the 2009 Eewansaapita Program – today the t-shirt is just as common among the Myaamia as it is among most North Americans.


[1]. For examples of dress associated with special occasions see Christian F. Feest et al., Indians and a Changing Frontier: The Art of George Winter (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society, 1993), Plates 7, 47, & 43; and James Otto Lewis, The Aboriginal Port Folio, or, A Collection of Portraits of the Most Celebrated Chiefs of the North American Indians (Philadelphia, PA: Lehman & Duval, 1836), Plates of Little Wolf, Brewett, Francis Godfroy, Richardville, Mi-a-qu-a, Speckled Loon, Na-she-mung-gwah, and the Son are all examples of finery worn for a treaty negotiation.  For examples of daily wear in the 1800s see Feest, The Art of George Winter, Plates 1, 6, and 45.