A Myaamia Beginning

mihtami myaamiaki nipinkonci saakaciweeciki
at first the Miamis came out of the water

It is with these words that the very first Myaamia story begins.  This story describes our emergence as distinct and different people onto Myaamionki, our traditional homelands.[1] In this story, our people emerge from the waters of Saakiiweesiipiwi (St. Joseph River near South Bend, Indiana) at a spot we call Saakiiweeyonki (the Confluence).  Our history as people began here, but this emergence was not easy.  The people had to struggle out of the water as they grasped and pulled their way onto the bank.  This struggle at the river’s edge marked the end of an undescribed, but likely challenging, journey.  Based on cultural clues, it seems as though our people came from lands north of the Great Lakes, where we split off from some unknown, but related, group.[2] Our emergence at Saakiiweeyonki, was likely the end of a long journey southward on Lake Michigan.  While we know the specific place where we emerged, it is difficult to put a specific date on this journey.  We know that our people were living in Myaamionki for many generations before the disruptions caused by the Beaver Wars (around 1650).

aacimooni iihkwiliaakani - "Story Vest" called Emergence by the Myaamia artist Katrina Mitten
aacimooni iihkwiliaakani – “Story Vest” called Emergence by the Myaamia artist Katrina Mitten

In this story, we built our first village at Saakiiweeyonki, but we apparently did not stay there very long.  We know from other stories that after leaving Saakiiweeyonki, our people built numerous villages along the Wabash River Valley starting near contemporary Ft. Wayne, Indiana and running at least as far south along the Wabash as the current city of Vincennes.  As each village grew in size, the group would divide and a new village would be formed downstream.  Just as we likely split off from our unknown relatives in the north and journeyed to Saakiiweeyonki, our younger siblings, the Waayaahtanwa (Wea) and Peeyankihšia (Piankashaw) split off from us.  In the 1800s, the Waayaahtanwa and Peeyankihšia confederated together with the Peewaalia (Peoria) to form the contemporary Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma.[3]

Our story of emergence concludes with a Myaamia man making a return journey to Saakiiweeyonki.  When he arrives, he is startled to find other people living there.  To his great surprise, they speak the same language as his people.  Was this group another branch of our unknown relatives from the north?  We don’t know, but it seems possible.  It will be difficult to ever know for sure because the people, who the Myaamia man names, “Old Moccasins,” disappear from our history, at least in name, following this story.

This story is important to us today for many reasons.  It establishes our roots in Myaamionki, our traditional homelands.  It also stresses the importance of language to our group identity.  The end of the story demonstrates how groups were perceived through the lens of language.  Those who spoke our language (Miami-Illinois) or closely related languages, like Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and Fox, were usually friends, allies, and relatives.  Those who didn’t were often viewed as foreigners.  The story is also the source of many contemporary Myaamia people’s given names.  These names build off of one of the central themes of the story: the struggle to survive and pull our way forward in the world.  When someone gives one of the names from this story to a Myaamia baby, they are reminding us of our beginning as a people, the place from where we come, and the difficult struggles our ancestors endured so that we could be here today.

If you would like to comment on this story, ask historical questions, or request a future article on a different topic, then please visit our Myaamia Community History Blog at: https://myaamiahistory.wordpress.com.  This blog is a place for our community to gather together to read, learn, and discuss our history.  Our history belongs to all of us and I hope we can use this blog as one place to further our knowledge and or strengthen connections to our shared past.

You can also email me at ironstgm@miamioh.edu, or write me at

George Ironstrack
Myaamia Center
Miami University
200 Bonham House
Oxford, OH 45056

[1]The version of this story that we use today, was told by Waapanaakikaapwa (Gabriel Godfroy) to J.P. Dunn in the early 1900s.  David J. Costa, ed., myaamia neehi peewaalia aacimoona neehi aalhsoohkana – Myaamia and Peoria Narratives and Winter Stories, (Miami; Oklahoma: Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, 2010), 52-53.

[2] Many of our stories have parallels with Cree speaking peoples in the north.  In addition, our constellations seem to have a northern focus and indicate that our people spent many generations living north of Lake Michigan.

[3] For more on the Myaamia and our younger siblings, see Charles Christopher Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 2, 8-13. In 1721, Charlevoix claimed that the Illinois describe a shared point of origin with the Miami.  However, the location he describes is different than that described by Waapanaakikaapwa and Trowbridge.  (Charlevoix XVIII part 2, p 227).  For more on a history of the Confederation that led to the contemporary Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, see http://www.peoriatribe.com/history and Dorris Valley and Mary M. Lembcke, eds. The Peorias: A History of the Peoria Indian Tribe of Oklahoma, 60-61.

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