Miami (Native Americans of the Northeast Woodlands)

Miamitmp2016_thumb, possibly from the Ojibwa word Omaumeg, "People of the Peninsula," or from their own word for pigeon. Their original name may have been Twaatwaa, in imitation of a crane. The traditional bands were Atchatchakangouen, Kilatika, Mengakonkia, Pepicokia, Wea, and Piankashaw. Miamis were culturally and linguistically related to the Illinois.

Location From a position possibly south of Lake Michigan, the Miami moved into northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin in the mid-seventeenth century. Within a few generations, they moved south of Lake Michigan, roughly between the Wabash and the Ohio Rivers, and especially along the St. Joseph River. Today Miamis live in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, and in Allen, Huntington, and Miami Counties, Indiana.

Population There were approximately 4,500 Miamis in the mid-seventeenth century. In the early 1990s, about 6,000 lived in Indiana. In the mid-1990s about 4,500 lived in Oklahoma.

Language Miami is an Algonquian language.

Historical Information

History Miami culture evolved at least in part from the prehistoric Ohio Mound Builders. In the mid-seventeenth century, the people effected a temporary retreat west of the Mississippi in the face of Iroquois war parties; Dakota pressure, including a huge military defeat, sent them back east (with French assistance). Peace was established between the Miami and the Iroquois in 1701.

Miamis traded with the French from the mid-seventeenth century on but tended to side with the British in the colonial wars. Some Miamis guided Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet down the Mississippi in the 1670s. The tribe experienced early factionalism over the issue of Christianity. The Miami participated in Pontiac’s rebellion (1763), after which they ceded most of their Ohio lands and concentrated in Indiana. They fought with the British against the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

The Miami war, also known as Little Turtle’s war, was led by the great strategist Michikinikwa, or Little Turtle. The Indian coalition included Objibwas, Ottawas, Lenapes, Shawnees, Potawatomis, and Illinois as well as Miamis. The war was a defensive one, fought to contain non-native settlement of the Ohio Valley. The coalition enjoyed significant victories in the early years, thanks mainly to Michikinikwa’s strategy of guerrilla warfare. In the end, however, sheer numbers of non-native soldiers wore the Indians down. Although Michikinikwa foresaw the inevitable defeat and advised a cessation of hostilities, the coalition replaced him with another leader and was decisively defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The ensuing Treaty of Greenville forced local Indians to cede all of Ohio and most of Indiana to the United States.

The Miami underwent a dramatic population decline beginning in the late eighteenth century. Groups of Wea and Piankashaw began moving to Missouri as early as 1814. The United States forcibly removed a group of about 600 Miami to Kansas in 1846. In 1854, these groups came together to join the remnants of the Illinois tribe, forming the Confederated Peoria Tribe. They were later relocated to Oklahoma. There, in 1873, the Miami joined that confederacy, which changed its name to the United Peoria and Miami. The group that remained in Indiana consisted of about 1,500 people whose chiefs had been granted private land.

By the early twentieth century, Miami land in both Oklahoma and Indiana had largely been lost through allotment and tax foreclosure. Through the process of losing their lands, both communities, but especially that in Indiana, suffered significant population loss, as people moved away to try to survive. Forty years after the Indiana Miami lost federal recognition in 1897, they organized a nonprofit corporation in an effort to maintain their identity.

Religion The sun was the supreme deity, possibly the revered master of life central to Miami religion. There were also lesser manitou, or spirits, which were involved in a vision quest complex. Both sexes undertook a vision quest at puberty, for which they began training by fasting at a young age. Some men were directed by their guardian spirit to act and dress like women; this role was generally accepted, although if they engaged in warfare they did so as men.

Priests who cured with magic powers made up the Midewiwin or Grand Medicine Society. There were also shamans who cured with herbs and plant medicines. The most important ceremonies focused on the harvest and the return from the winter hunt. In both cases, celebrations included feasting, dancing, games, and music.

Government The six traditional bands had consolidated by the eighteenth century into four: the Miami proper, the Pepicokia, the Wea, and the Piankashaw. Of these, the second soon merged into the last two, which by the nineteenth century acted as separate tribes. Even in the nineteenth century, each of the three Miami tribes was divided into bands.

Each village had a council made up of clan chiefs; the council in turn confirmed a village chief, generally a patrilineally inherited position, who was responsible for civil functions and was in turn supported by the people. There was also a war chief who oversaw war rituals. This person generally inherited his position but might obtain it by merit (as was the case with Little Turtle). There were also parallel female peace and war chiefs: The former supervised feasts, and the latter provisioned war parties and could demand an end to various types of hostilities.

The village council also sent delegates to the band council, which in turn sent delegates to the tribal council. All leaders enjoyed respect and a great deal of authority. In fact, early tribal chiefs may have had a semidivine status, reflecting the influence of Mound Builder culture.

Customs The Miami recognized roughly five patrilineal clans and possibly a dual division. Elderly women may have named children based on dreams. Names were clan specific, although adults might change names to alter their luck or to avert bad luck. Children were rarely punished; parental instruction and discipline consisted mostly of lectures and behavior modeling. Adult status was indicated by face painting. Adults enjoyed athletic competitions, especially footraces.

Marriages were either arranged or initiated by couples. The formalities included a gift exchange. Newly married couples generally lived with the father’s family. Killing an adulterous wife (or clipping off the end of her nose) or an abusive husband was condoned; however, other murders were either avenged by blood or by money or property.

Burial, either extended or seated, took place on scaffolds, in hollowed-out logs, and in small, sealed huts. Only food and water and perhaps some personal adornments went with the corpse. Postfuneral activities included a performance of the dead’s favorite dance or activity and, if a parent, a ceremonial adoption of a new parent a year later.

Dwellings The people built small summer villages along river valleys. Private houses were made of an oval pole framework covered with woven cattail or rush mats. There were also village council houses. Structures in winter hunting camps tended to be covered with elm bark or hides.

Diet Miamis developed and grew a particularly fine variety of corn, in addition to beans, squash, and, later, melons. Men hunted buffalo on the open prairies, using fire surrounds and bow and arrow before they acquired horses. The whole village, except the old and infirm, would accompany the hunters, with the women and children helping to prepare and pack the meat for the trip home. Women also gathered wild roots and other plant food.

Key Technology Men made pipes of Minnesota pipestone (catlinite). Musical instruments included drums, rattles, flutes, and whistles. Women made bags from spun buffalo hair.

Trade Miamis exported agricultural products, pipes, and buffalo products. They imported shell beads, among other items.

Notable Arts Some items of clothing were decorated by quillwork with bands in a twining or geometric pattern. Buffalo robes were also painted with representational and geometric designs. The people made silk applique from the mid-eighteenth century on. Red was a favorite color for decoration.

Transportation Dugout canoes were often made of butternut trees, although the people traveled mainly on land.

Dress Except for soft-soled moccasins, men often went naked in summer; women wore a wraparound skirt, leggings, and a poncho. In winter, men wore deerskin shirts and breechclouts. Both occasionally wore painted animal robes, especially during ceremonies. Knife sheaths were attached to leather or woven belts. Men wore their hair in a roach and were extensively painted and tattooed.

War and Weapons With the help of the council, war chiefs decided the issue of whether or not to wage war.

Traditional allies included the Kickapoo, whereas enemies included the Dakota (until the eighteenth century) as well as the Chickasaw and other southeastern tribes. The people held a ceremony to ensure the safe return of the war party. War rituals, such as the all-night war dance and the homecoming of a successful war party, were clan based, and leaders of war parties were not considered responsible for deaths or members of their own clan. Warriors carried large buffalo-hide shields.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Headquarters for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is located in Miami, Oklahoma. The people own 38 acres of land. Their constitution provides for a principal chief, other officers, and a council. There is an annual meeting of all tribal members.

The Miami Nation of Indiana is located near Peru. A powerful principal chief and elders council are chosen by clans and serve for life. There is also a vice chief, a principal chiefress (female chief), and a spiritual leader. About 2,500 tribal members lived in Indiana in the early 1990s.

Economy In Indiana, bingo provides most tribal funds. Tribal resources in Oklahoma include a trucking company, gasoline reserves, a motel and supper club, bingo, and tourism.

Legal Status The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribal entity. The Miami Nation of Indiana asked for summary action to overturn their 1897 termination and reinstate tribal recognition. Their recognition petition was rejected in 1992.

Daily Life The Indiana Miami meet twice annually and hold an annual picnic in August. Their agenda for years has focused on reinstating federal recognition, reacquiring land, and economic development. Facilities include three buildings, which house the tribal headquarters, a museum, a day care center, various social programs, and a gymnasium.

Facilities in Oklahoma include the tribal headquarters, a common room, a library, and a community kitchen and dining area for elders. There is also a brick longhouse, at which tribal meetings are held. Both Miami tribes helped found the Minnetrista Council for Great Lakes Native American Studies, in Muncie, Indiana, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Woodlands culture.

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