Winter Gathering is one of the major events each year that Myaamia citizens and friends of the community can come together in Noošonke Siipionki ‘Miami, OK’ to celebrate Myaamia culture and hear about important news and developments within the community.
This year’s gathering was meant to be the beginning of a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the relationship between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University. However, to safeguard the tribal community against the ongoing neehseehpineenki ‘COVID-19’ pandemic, the decision was made to scale back the event to just tribal members and their families. This meant a large contingent of the Miami University representatives were unable to attend.
Though the event ended up being much smaller in terms of attendance, with about 50-70 participants depending on the activities, it did give the opportunity for those community members to have a more intimate experience and engage at a more profound depth with other attendees during planned activities and during unstructured freetime.
The event was held on the last weekend of January. On Friday, the first day’s events began in the Aacimweekaani ‘Council House,’ a central building for tribal meetings, with an opening welcome from Akima, Chief Doug Lankford. He expressed the Tribe’s commitment to hold these events for those that are able and wish to attend going forward and his excitement to share in the weekend’s events with the attendees. Afterwards, attendees were able to walk through the newly re-designated Mildred Walker Cultural Resource Offices just next door, which was previously the Elder Activity Center. The lobby held an exhibition for the 50th Anniversary of the Tribe and University’s relationship. Hanging from the ceiling were also a collection of fabric ribbons that commemorated the Myaamia citizens that underwent Removal, the 175th anniversary of which occurred last year.
After the open house in the new center, lunch was held in the Council House. Presentations followed, beginning with Kara Strass, Director of the Miami Tribe Relations Office for the Myaamia Center. She spoke on the aforementioned 50th Anniversary beginning with Chief Forest Old’s journey to Miami University in 1972, upon learning there was a university named after his people. Years later, the first Myaamia students would arrive in 1991. Then in 2001, the first iteration of the Myaamia Center began on campus, then-called the Myaamia Project.
Over the years, the relationship between the Tribe and University has grown to the point that just last year the university graduated 100 Myaamia students and has a current undergraduate class of 38 students!
Strass then highlighted upcoming events that will help foster this unique relationship like the Myaamiaki Conference being held at Miami University on April 9th and Celebrating Miami Week which will take place this upcoming November, with weeklong events celebrating Myaamia culture on campus. Students will also be able to take part in a lacrosse tournament this spring. A list of upcoming events is available on the Myaamia Center’s website. A commemorative 50th anniversary blanket is also available for tribal members through the Miami Nation Gift Shop. The blanket will also be available soon through Miami University’s bookstore.
The next presentation was given by Doug Peconge, the Cultural Resources Extension Office Community Programming Manager. He spoke about the new property the Tribe had recently purchased this last fall in Kiihkayonki ‘Fort Wayne, IN.’ The Tribe had recently owned a 10-acre property in the area used for community events, but was rather quickly outgrown. The new property boasts 45-acres, a pole barn and house, a 5-acre pond, and 13-acres of woods around the perimeter. It will eventually be used for community activities according to any necessary COVID-19 related regulations and safety procedures.
Diane Hunter, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, gave the last presentation on the removal of Myaamiaki from our traditional homelands. In her talk, she condensed her findings into a deeply personal, moving account of the process of Removal and how it impacted our community as a whole, and the individuals who had to undergo this terrible ordeal. Last year was the 175th anniversary of this solemn event and Hunter has painstakingly documented the events leading up to and during Removal in a series of blog posts that can be explored further on our Removal Commemoration page.
After the talks, a quick stomp dance demonstration was put on for those that had not yet experienced one. George Ironstrack, Assistant Director of the Myaamia Center, led the demonstration and a short question and answer session directly after.
Dinner was offered in the Council House and afterwards was time for storytelling. The Aalhsoohkaana ‘Winter Stories’ can only be told during winter time as opposed to aacimoona ‘historical narratives’ which can be told all year. That makes this event all the more special as these stories can’t be enjoyed in other seasons. Each storyteller brought their own unique understanding of the stories they told to create a completely one of a kind experience.
Saturday offered a change of pace as Winter Gathering attendees had the morning to explore the various tribal properties in Noošonke Siipionki ‘Miami, OK.’ Tribal officials were located at the properties to provide additional information and historical context. The locations that were available to visit were Tribal headquarters, the Mildred Walker Culture Resources Center, the newly-renovated Ethel Miller Moore Cultural Education Center/Makerspace, the Drake House, the Geboe House, the Myaamia Heritage Museum & Archive, and the Tribal Cemetery. Attendees could visit as many locations as they want and afterward could have lunch again in the Council House.
The next event of the day saw attendees gathered in the arena behind the Council House for an afternoon of stomp dance. For some attendees it was their first stomp dance in general and for many more it was their first since the pandemic began, making it a cathartic moment for all. Strong winds prevented an actual fire from being used during the event, but the cold did not stop community members from joining in and having fun.
Afterwards there was one last meal in the Council House and the addition of another night of storytelling. This night’s rendition was rather unique as it included discussion between the audience and storytellers about the Aalhsookaana. In terms of our Tribe’s revitalization journey, storytelling is still rather new and each year brings new understanding to our collective, communal experience with this subject.
Despite the smaller attendance, this year’s Winter Gathering was a success in bringing together members of our community to learn about and celebrate our collective identity. For more opportunities to engage with the Myaamia community watch out for the Myaamia Center newsletter and new posts on the Aacimotaatiyankwi blog.