The Miami Indians, known as Algonkian
people, are closely related to the Illinois peoples. Miami comes for the
Miami-Illinois word Myaamia, which means “allies” (Peregrine, 1996).
Throughout their history, the tribe has faced many relocations as well as push
back from the US Government. The story of the Miami Indians begins as a united
tribe along Lake Michigan and ends with them separated into two subgroups
located in Indiana and Oklahoma. There
are many characteristics that make up the depth of the Miami tribe. How they
lived with in their cultural area, their contact with the Europeans, and issues
that the tribe still faces today due to relocation are just a few
characteristics that defines their history.
The Miami have always lived in the
prairie areas in the Midwestern United States (Peregrine,
1996). The climate of
the region the Miami lived in was hot in the summer and very cold in the
winter. During the spring, it usually rained a lot and fall was the perfect
time for hunting. The habitat around them consisted of many thick and light
woods, rolling hills, rivers, and meadows.
The Miami made large permanent
summer villages that were focused on extensive agriculture from April to October
(Rafert, 2003). Their villages sat near streams and rivers. They grew
several varieties of corn which was their main field crop. They also grew
melons, squashes, pumpkins, and gourds. The women mostly handled the planting
and harvesting of the crops while the men would help clear out the fields and
sometimes help with harvesting as well. The Miami were very innovative and stored
their corn in bark-lined pits that were up to eight feet wide and five or six
feet deep (Rafert, 2003). They even stored some of it underground for future
use. Even though corn was abundant to the Miami they still respected it as it
had great value to them.
In the summer and fall women and
children would gather wild fruits such as berries and nuts. There were far more
wild plants available to the tribe than there were crops that they grew
themselves. This is the main reason that the tribe grew mostly corn with some
beans and squash. The tribe would also gather barks, roots, fruits, leaves, and
berries for the purpose of medicine (Rafert, 2003).
Not only was hunting important for
food supply, but it was also a key item of trade. The Miami hunted large
animals such as bison, elk, deer, and bears. The tribe would sometimes use fire
to herd the bison and then kill them. When large animals became scarcer in the
eighteenth century, the Miami had to resort to smaller animals such as
raccoons, opossums, and porcupines.
The Miami adapted to the land around
them by using the animals and plants that they were given for almost
everything. They used the skins of animals to help keep themselves warm and to
make houses in the winter. Their clothing was made out of deer skins, and their
houses were made of reeds and animals skins. The Miami’s houses were known as
Wigwams. They were small oval houses usually about eight to ten feet tall that
had walls made of woven reeds and animal skins (Rafert,
2003). It had a
central fire pit and a smoke hole to keep the inside smoke free. This tribe was
very resourceful and fully took advantage of the opportunities that their
cultural area offered to them. From food to clothing and shelter, the Miami
used the land the best that they could and created a thriving tribe.
Upon the arrival of the Europeans,
they disrupted the peaceful living of the Miami by bringing along diseases,
war, and dislocation. The Smallpox epidemic swept the Great Lakes region around
1639 and took out roughly thirty percent of the tribe (Rafert, 2003).
The first time that the Miami directly
came in contact with the Europeans was around 1654 when two French explorers
found some Miami refugees near Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Rafert, 2003).
Shortly before this around 1840, the Miami had fled their territory near Lake
Michigan as they were being pushed out by the Iroquois. The Iroquois Wars began
in 1642 as the tribe wanted to compete with the French for the best beaver furs
in the Great Lakes area. These wars lasted for most of the 17th
century and had a great impact on many Indian tribes in the area (Rafert, 2003).
Around 1650, there was a temporary peace that allowed for French contact with the
By the 1670’s French trade items
replaced many of the everyday items and tools that the Miami had previously
used. Around this time was also when tobacco and alcohol were introduced to the
tribe. The Miami traded both beaver skins and corn for the items own by the
French. With this new opportunity for trade, the Miami has started to relocate to
portages between major rivers where they were able to control the trade to their
advantage. The French were the ones who ultimately regulated the trade and set
their separation from the Miami. The Miami were smaller in population than the
other tribes the French had aligned themselves with and therefore less useful.
The Miami traded with the French but didn’t always meet their needs and were
more likely to shift their loyalty depending on their trading needs.
In 1687, the French aligned their
Indian allies to carry out attacks on the Iroquois homeland. The Miami joined
in on the raids after they were once pushed out of their homes because of the
Iroquois. In 1701, the French arranged a meeting with all the tribes involved
in the war and they arranged peace with the Iroquois after fifty years of Indian
civil war. (Rafert, 2003).
After the end of the war and many
years of contact with the Europeans, the Miami began to understand economic
needs and resources on their own. The Miami began to incorporate ways of the French
into their tribe and to their society. The Miami also began to follow the
general tribal movement south and eastwards towards the Wabash River valley.
The tribe spread out across the valley. For roughly ninety years, the Miami
lived here free from interference until the 1790s. During this time, the
American military arranged their first encounter with the tribe.
The Miami were forced to sign
treaties in 1795 that dramatically reduced the amount of land they owned to the
new ownership of the US government. In 1826, the Treaty of Mississinwas forced the
Miami to cede most of their land to the US government (Vanderstel, 1985). This treaty also let individuals of the Miami own land as
private property instead of the lands being held by the tribe as a whole like
they were previously. By the 1830’s, the share of Miami land decreased to
roughly 500,000 acres that was now completely surrounded by land owned by the
state of Indiana (Strack, 2017). Also in 1830,
Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. This act’s main purpose was to force
all of the Indian tribes to move west of the Mississippi.
The Miami did not
want to give up their land so easily and resisted many times during the
removal. However, in 1840, they signed the Treaty of the Forks of Wabash which
traded their reservation in Indiana for a reservation of the same size west of the
Mississippi (Strack, 2017). This treaty stated that this move must take
place within the next five years which would eventually become Kansas
Territory. However, after they signed the treaty, the Miami still resisted
removal for six years. The Miami who had their own ownership of land were able
to stay as citizens in Indiana and were exempted from the removal. Those who
were not exempt thought that they would just be able to stay in these private
lands and be able to resist the removal by finding a loophole in the treaty.
On October 6th,
1846, those who thought they could find a way out of the removal were met by
the Army who forcibly removed those that had not been exempted. Hundreds of
Miami Indians were loaded onto canal boats in Peru, Indiana (Strack, 2017). The boats were sent down the Wabash river to Fort Wayne. From
here, they began a four-day journey south to Cincinnati, Ohio. Their travel
continued for four months before they finally arrived in Kansas. This was a
very different landscape than what they were used to and winter was just about
the set in. Upon their arrival, they were forced to sleep in government issued
tents and eat government rations until they could build more permanent
structures (Strack, 2017). After about thirty years in 1873,
part of the tribe was forced to move once again 150 miles south to what is
today known as Miami, Oklahoma.
This move tore the
tribe apart and lead to a lot of devastation. They had to leave their family
and friends 150 miles behind. This divide in the tribe still exists today.
There are still parts of the tribe in Indiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The U.S.
government recognizes the Western Miami as the official tribal government since
the forced removal in 1846. The separation between the tribes has made it
difficult to connect history and facts about the tribe as a whole. Today the western tribe is federally recognized as the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, with 3553
enrolled members (Vanderstel, 1985).
Miami which are also known as the Indiana Miami have their own tribal
government, but are not recognized by the federal government. They used to be recognized by the US in an
1854 treaty, but that recognition was removed in 1897. In 1980, the Indiana
legislature recognized the Eastern Miami and voted to support federal
recognition. In the late 20th century, US
Senator Richard Lugar introduced a bill to recognize the
Eastern Miami, but withdrew his support due to constituent concerns over
gambling rights. On July 26, 1993, a federal judge ruled that the Eastern Miami
were recognized by the US in the 1854 treaty, and that the federal government
had no right to strip them of their status in 1897 (Vanderstel,
1985). However, the judge also ruled that
the statute of limitations on appealing their status had expired and they no
longer had any right to sue (Vanderstel, 1985). Therefore,
the Eastern Miami are not still not recognized by the federal government.
After the arrival of the Europeans,
the Miami faced many significant changes. Their tribe was torn apart and is now
separated in two different tribes in the US. Only one of the tribes of ais
recognized by the federal government. This change was very significant to the
lives of the tribe both back then and still is effecting their lives to this
Now moving ahead in time, as
recently as in the 1950’s many people expected that the Miami tribe would
disappear. Their native language was almost nonexistent as well as their tribal
craft activity. Many of their traditional works such as clothing, beadwork, and
peace medals were sold to collectors as well. A great majority of the Miami
were marrying outside of the Indians culture and it seemed that it would be
only a matter of time before there was nothing left of the tribe.
However, the Tribe was able to
overcome this road block and they still continue on today as well-known tribe
in Indiana. Without federal recognition, they receive no direct federal funding
and their income comes from bingo halls, tribal membership dues, grants, and other
forms of fundraising. In 1846 when the tribe was split into two by the US
government, only Oklahoma Miami are receiving these funds. The Indiana tribe is
three times larger than the Oklahoma tribe. Today, roughly 2500 Miami are
living in the state of Indiana (Rafert, 2003). About half of the Miami in
Indiana is focused in Peru, Wabash, Huntington, Fort Wayne, and South Bend. The
others are scattered among other cities and are not as closely in touch with
their Miami roots.
Throughout their history, the Miami
have overcome many struggles due to the constant changes that they have had to
face. After being relocated, separated from their families, and eventually
having their tribe split, the Miami still thrives as a nation today. Although
only the Miami in Oklahoma are recognized federally, the tribe in Indiana is
still independently active. Considering that they entire culture of the tribe
was almost completely lost in the 1950’s, the tribe is continuing to regain its
presence and practice their traditions.