Miami Tribe of Oklahoma Language Revitalization

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki Program

By Honoring Nations

Honoring Nations 2018 Awardee

The United States has a shameful history of displacing its original inhabitants from their homelands and attempting to wipe out their cultures. Such actions had a devastating effect on the Miami people, who, by the 1990s, became scattered across the country, resulting in an ongoing struggle to maintain their cultural identity. In response, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma created the Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki (the Miami Awakening) program.

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A Nation Under Threat

At the time of European contact, over 20,000 Myaamiaki lived in what are now the states of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the mid-1800s, many Myaamia families living in the Great Lakes region were forcibly relocated to present day Kansas.

Two decades later, tribal citizens were forced to move again, this time to Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. These repeated removals decimated the Myaamia. By the late 1800s, the Tribe—now known as the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma—consisted of fewer than 100 adults. Allotment, a US government policy that isolated tribal citizens on small parcels of land, further undermined the Tribe’s ability to thrive.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

Severe population decline, loss of land, and aggressive attempts by the federal government to assimilate tribal citizens fractured the Miami Tribe. Under these difficult circumstances, the Myaamia language and tribal cultural practices slid into dormancy.

In recognition of and concern for the decline, tribal leaders applied for and received a grant from the Administration for Native Americans (part of the US Department of Health and Human Services) to examine what could be done to reverse centuries of damage.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki Program, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma - 2018 Honoring Nations Award by Honoring Nations, The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic DevelopmentHonoring Nations

Reviving the Past

The Miami Tribe used the grant funds to bring together community members and academic experts to explore ways to reclaim the nation’s heritage. The Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki aims to rebuild identity through the use of language and cultural practices and widely disseminated publications.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

The Miami Tribe’s Cultural Resources Office coordinates Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki with strong support from tribal leadership. Extensive educational content is distributed to every tribal household free of charge. Beginning with a Myaamia dictionary published in the late 1990s.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

By reviving language and cultural practices that were in danger of being lost forever, the Miami Tribe has redefined—in just two decades— what it means to be Myaamia.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

Tribal citizens are once again taking part in lacrosse games and traditional dances. The tribal government now takes all of its votes by responding iihia (yes) or moohci (no) in Myaamia. The language is visible in signs on tribal buildings and Myaamia vocabulary is used strategically in tribal offices including the courts, social service programs, and child care.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

Most importantly, Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki rebuilds community by creating a sense of belonging. In the words of one citizen, “When I greet another Miami in our language, I feel a connection between our hearts.”

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki aims to provide every tribal citizen with information about their Myaamia heritage, regardless of where they live and how much contact they have with the Tribe. Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki has helped rebuild a sense of identity within a dispersed population by encouraging all tribal citizens to learn about their ancestral language and lifeways.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

Reconnecting the Nation

Participants note that before the program, they felt Myaamia based only on ancestry, but now they consciously understand the shared cultural bonds of the Myaamia community

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

While Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki’s overt objective is to revive Myaamia language and traditions, the program’s most profound effect has been to reconstruct a sense of nationhood. As citizens have embraced language and cultural practices, Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki has sparked a political reawakening. 

The Tribe has experienced a dramatic upswing in the number of citizens who vote in tribal elections. There has been a fourfold increase in participation in the annual General Council meeting, the Tribe’s ultimate governing body, which is open to all citizens above the age of 18. From the beginning of the initiative, tribal leaders made personal commitments to take part in Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki programming, publicly reinforcing the importance of this initiative to the nation’s future.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki ProgramHonoring Nations

Lessons

Rooted in strengthening their kinship ties to one another within a strategic educational framework, Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki helps citizens reconnect to their Indigenous knowledge and value system. And, as tribal citizens reconnect with the knowledge of their ancestors, they are creating a new understanding of what it means to be Myaamia.

Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki Program, From the collection of: Honoring Nations
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Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki Program, From the collection of: Honoring Nations
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Native nations can achieve widespread cultural and community revival by engaging every citizen, no matter their age, location, or previous knowledge. Partnerships between Native nations and institutions of higher education can result in innovative and integrated programming that builds human and cultural capital. The programs that renew tribal culture can rebuild community and re-engage tribal citizens—and in so doing, strengthen tribal sovereignty through political renewal.

Credits: Story

HONORING NATIONS: 2018 Awardee
Myaamiaki Eemamwiciki
Miami Tribe of Oklahoma

Text provided by:
The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Honoring Nations Awards 2018
https://hpaied.org/sites/default/files/publications/Myaamiaki%20Eemamwiciki%20Program.pdf

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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