This past summer marked the fourteenth year of the Eewansaapita Summer Youth Educational Experience. Eewansaapita means ‘sunrise’ and is a metaphoric expression for community rebirth, renewal, and empowerment. It is the flagship youth education program of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma for tribal citizens ages ten to sixteen. The focus of the program is to teach Myaamia specific language and culture with an emphasis on our ways of learning and connecting our youth to each other in Myaamionki ‘Myaamia places.’
Eewansaapita was born in the summer of 2005. Our Tribe’s Cultural Resources Office directed the Myaamia Center, then known as the Myaamia Project, to organize and create the curriculum for an overnight week-long youth program. Daryl Baldwin, the director of the Myaamia Center, ran native youth camps in Montana and used his years of experience and knowledge to create the structure of Eewansaapita and recruit staff. I was hired part-time for the summer to write the first curriculum and help organize the instruction during the week. Daryl recruited counselors from among the Myaamia students at Miami University, and Dr. Wesley Leonard, then the chair of the Miami Tribe’s language committee, also joined the senior leadership team to help evaluate the program in this all important first year.
The Tribe held the program at the old cultural grounds on the Isadore Labadie Allotment just outside Miami, Oklahoma. I remember how exhausting it was to be outside in the Oklahoma summer heat for five straight days, but I also remember how much fun we all had hiking in the woods, playing peekitahaminki ‘lacrosse,’ and learning to use our heritage language with each other as a mini-community. This first year of Eewansaapita made it clear that Myaamia youth were really excited to learn together and everyone was sad when we reached the end of the week. It was clear that Eewansaapita was a success.
In the summer of 2006, Eewansaapita returned, this time with more organization and infrastructure. In this year, we began to implement a cycle of themes that continue to this day. The six core themes are: Meehtohseeniwinki Ašiihkionki ‘Living on the Land,’ Eeweentiiyankwi ‘Family,’ Ašiihkiwi neehi Kiišikwi ‘Earth and Sky,’ Weekihkaanki Meehkintiinki ‘Games,’ Kiikinaana ‘Our Homes,’ and Weecinaakiiyankwi Weecikaayankwi ‘Song and Dance.’ Each year we focus on one of these themes as a learning community. One goal of organizing Eewansaapita in this manner was to create an educational program that created similar learning experiences across time and place.
The overnight version of Eewansaapita continued until 2010 when the Miami Tribe was forced to delay the program for one summer due to funding changes. The program returned the next year as a day program where participants went home at night. This shift helped reduce the cost of the program to a level that was sustainable as attendance increased and the number of site locations expanded. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of community members, Dani Tippmann and Julia Rhoades, Eewansaapita expanded to add a site in Kiihkayonki ‘Fort Wayne, IN.’
From 2011 forward, we have continued to hold Eewansaapita in two locations: Noošonke Siipionki ‘Miami, OK’ and Kiihkayonki ‘Fort Wayne, IN.’ In Miami, the program is held at our nation’s aacimweekaani ‘council house’ with regular visits to the property on the David Geboe allotment to the north of town. In Fort Wayne, we recently moved the program to Metea Park, which is a beautiful county park with excellent natural areas and a nature center with large classrooms. As interest in the program grew, parents and Tribal leaders wanted to expand similar opportunities for younger children. This led to the creation of the Saakaciweeta Summer Youth Educational Experience for Myaamia children ages six to nine. The creation of this program has expanded youth experiences and is another step towards creating Myaamia language and culture programs for children of all ages.
During the summer of 2020, we had to transition Eewansaapita to a home learning program that provided materials and experiences using a combination of digital delivery and in-home family-centered learning. Staff and participants were all horribly disappointed to not be together for face-to-face programming, but we were also excited by the positive results generated through the learning-from-home model. This model made it possible for participants living distant from Miami, OK and Fort Wayne, IN to join Eewansaapita and Saakaciweeta learning communities. Going forward, we will continue to offer some portion of the learning opportunities for families to use in their homes. Post COVID, we will return to face-to-face programming but the lessons we’ve learned in this difficult period will have a positive impact on the Myaamia community for years to come.