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.” 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.
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Neewe.
 Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 56.