Over the past two weeks, we have welcomed our Myaamia students back to Miami University. They bring energy and enthusiasm to our work at the Myaamia Center and so we are always excited for the start of a new school year. This year we have 39 Myaamia Students who are a part of the Myaamia Heritage Program–our largest cohort ever. The beginning of the year is always a whirlwind of activity, and this year is no exception.
We start each year by welcoming our first-year students to campus. All first-year students move in earlier than the upper-class students, but we ask Myaamia students to arrive a few days early so that we can spend some time together and make sure that they feel comfortable and ready to start school the following week. This year, our students moved in on Tuesday, August 17th and we kicked off our program by getting together with the students and their families–allowing them to meet each other and making sure that they understand the Myaamia Heritage Program. Then, we spent all day on Wednesday together. We practiced introducing ourselves in Myaamiaataweenki, played mahkisina meehkintiinki ‘moccasin game’ and seenseewinki ‘bowl game’, and made paper bookmarks inspired by Myaamia ribbonwork. In addition to these activities meant to orient students to Myaamia language and culture, students also spent time finding their classrooms and talking with upper-class students about what to expect here at Miami. Bringing together these first-year students from the first day that they arrive at Miami allows them to get to know each other and hopefully makes them feel more at ease with the entire experience.
We then turn our attention to the first Myaamia Heritage class of the semester. Just like in the past, we meet on Tuesday evenings, and the first class of the year is always a celebration of getting back together where we welcome our new students and get to see returning students again. Our class is so large this year that introductions took up most of the time, but that didn’t tamp down the excitement of the day or prevent us from eating our normal first day celebratory pizza. COVID protocols at Miami require us to be masked indoors, but our partners in Miami Athletics have allowed us to use one of their pavilions for our class so that we can be outdoors, unmasked. We were very excited to be able to spend time together safely as a community and kick off the semester together.
Our last big event at the start of the school year was our Myaamia Heritage Program retreat on Friday, August 27th. This event is important because it is one of the only times each year that all of our students have extended time to spend together as a community (the senior students don’t have to attend the Heritage Course). After initial socialization and getting group photos, we always start by sharing a meal together. This year we held the retreat at Miami’s Western Lodge, but spent the majority of the evening outside. Throughout the evening, we rotate the students through partners and groups so that they have the opportunity to get to know one another. For example, they were paired up for introductions, and each student had to introduce their partner. We learned not just student names and majors, but also where students are coming from with fun facts about their hometowns as well as where students live on campus or in Oxford and who else lives near them. After playing peekitahaminki ‘lacrosse’, students were split into groups and played Myaamia games. Finally, we met with each class of students to talk about our expectations for the year and also to hear what they would like to see happen this year.
By the end of the first week of classes, we (both the Myaamia Center Staff and Myaamia Students) are always physically tired, but also energized for the year to come. The goal of the Myaamia Heritage Program is to build a Myaamia Community here at Miami University, and these events at the start of the year are integral to that process. One of the challenges of the last year has been that community building has been much more difficult than normal. While things don’t look like they did two years ago, we are still grateful for the opportunities to gather together, eat a meal, and strengthen our Myaamia knowledge and kinship ties.