About the Relationship Between the Miami Tribe and Miami University

In 2022, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their unique relationship.  The relationship began when Chief Forest Olds visited Miami University in 1972, and it has since evolved from relationships between individual people into a multi-layered collaboration built on trust, respect, and a shared commitment to education.  Myaamia people may have a relative who attended Miami University, visit Miami for the Myaamiaki Conference or an Athletics event, or see Miami faculty or students at a Tribal event.  But what does it really mean to have a relationship between a Tribal Nation and a University?

Miami Tribe Chief, Forest Olds, with Miami University President, Philip Shriver
Miami Tribe Chief, Forest Olds, with Miami University President, Philip Shriver

For the first couple of decades of the relationship, it was focused primarily on educating the Miami University community about the Miami Tribe.  After Chief Floyd Leonard was elected in 1974, he would often come to the University to educate about the Tribe as a contemporary Nation.  He would often bring with him other people from the Tribe or even leaders from other Tribes to attend University events and class visits.  As the relationship continued to deepen, the focus shifted to the possibility of educating Myaamia students as well.  The first Myaamia students enrolled at Miami University as part of the Heritage Award in 1991.  What began as simply a tuition waiver for Myaamia students has evolved into a 4-year program where Myaamia students take a series of courses together, attend Myaamia Center events, and receive individualized support and advising. To date, we have had 95 graduates of the Myaamia Heritage Program, and there are 30 Myaamia students currently enrolled at Miami.  

A second main outcome of the relationship was the creation of the Myaamia Center.  The Center (originally the Myaamia Project) was created in 2001 when the Tribe approached the University to see if they could provide support for language revitalization work.  The University agreed to provide support for one position for three years.  Soon after, Daryl Baldwin arrived on campus and began to focus on creating materials for Tribal programs, including the creation of the Myaamia Heritage Courses for Myaamia students at Miami, the Eewansaapita summer youth camps, and the Myaamiaki Conference.  In its almost 20 years, the Myaamia Center has grown slowly and steadily, and today has 6 full-time and 8 part-time staff who are focused on language and cultural revitalization and educational development.  

Myaamia Heritage Students playing mahkisina meehkintiinki 'moccasin game' at the Miami Tribe's 2019 Winter Gathering.
Myaamia Heritage Students playing mahkisina meehkintiinki ‘moccasin game’ at the Miami Tribe’s 2019 Winter Gathering. Photo credit: Jonathan M. Fox

One way that the Myaamia Center is able to do the work of language and cultural revitalization is through collaboration with faculty and students at Miami.  One great example of this is the partnership that has been created with the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC).  Because the field of language revitalization is so new, there were few technologies available for the Center to use when using archival documents.  By turning to the CEC, we were able to work together with CEC students and staff to design software that met our own research and teaching needs.  The Myaamia Center continues to have CEC masters students who have apprenticeships at the Center and undergraduate students who work on projects for their senior capstones.  These projects have helped the Center to create the Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA), the Myaamia Online Dictionary website and app, as well as the Ethnobotanical Database.  Through these types of projects, the Myaamia Center is able to create personalized systems that meet our needs, and the students get real-world experience and are able to learn about the Miami Tribe and our unique work.  This is only one example of many partnerships across campus that lead to mutually beneficial outcomes for the Myaamia Center and the faculty and staff on campus.

We are all very excited to celebrate the 50th-anniversary milestone of this relationship in 2022.  The celebration will kick-off at the 2022 Winter Gathering in Oklahoma.  As usual, we will invite many Miami University faculty, staff, and students who will be able to learn about the Tribe and our relationship with Miami through experiencing games, dances, and storytelling.  The next Myaamiaki Conference will take place April 9, 2022, which is where we will share about the work of the Myaamia Center with the Miami University and Myaamia communities.  Additionally, there will also be a week-long University-wide celebration in the fall.  For those of you who have attended our Athletics celebrations in the past, this will feel familiar but expanded to include the entire Miami campus.  We will share all of these events and more through email and on Myaamia Center social media, so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  We hope to see many of you in 2022 to help us celebrate all of the work that has been done both at Miami University and through the Tribe to make the ongoing relationship so successful.

You can learn more about the relationship between the Miami Tribe and Miami University on the Miami Tribe Relations website.

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