The Myaamiaki Conference is a biennial event that invites members of the Myaamia and Miami University communities to learn about the current projects being developed at the Myaamia Center.
The 9th biennial Myaamiaki Conference comes four years after the last was held, as the 2020 Conference had to be canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. After such a long period devoid of opportunities to reunite, the Myaamia community and friends came out in droves to enjoy the event. The Conference which took place on Saturday, April 9th, was the largest ever. There were a total of 515 participants, including 191 that joined virtually.
Events began on Friday with an open house at the Myaamia Center and a stomp dance that evening in Miami University’s Dauch Indoor Sports Center. Thank you to our friends in Miami University Athletics who helped arrange the venue. The dance had many seasoned veterans as well as newcomers from the University that helped welcome in the Conference weekend.
The Conference opened up Saturday morning in the Armstrong Student Center with introductions from the Myaamia Center’s Executive Director, Daryl Baldwin, and two songs performed by several Myaamiaki, “Miami people”, which can be viewed on the Myaamia Center’s 2022 Myaamiaki Conference YouTube playlist, along with the rest of the presentations.
The talks took place in the Fritz Pavilion where event-goers would have time in between presentations to visit Myaamia artist tables in the back of the room and receive tours from current Myaamia students to the downstairs Richard and Emily Smucker Wiikiaami Room.
During the lunch break, Myaamia Center staff organized an event for Teehkinawita families. The Teehkinawita program was created to support caregivers of Myaamia youth aged 0-5. Participants were able to participate in one of two activities. On one side of the room, parents discussed raising children in a Myaamia context and how to support language learning in the home, and on the other, their boisterous children were hard at work with a matching card game in Myaamiataweenki, “the Miami language”.
If you or those you know are raising young Myaamiaki and would like to get involved with Teehkinawita please contact organizer Kristina Fox, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first presentation of the day was given by the National Breath of Life (BoL) Institute team, which supports the development and training of language archives for tribal communities that participate in the National BoL program. The Myaamia Center serves as the institutional home of National BoL.
Presenters Dr. Gabriela Pérez Báez and Jerome Viles are no strangers to the challenges of indigenous language revitalization. Co-Director, Dr. Báez, has a background in linguistics which aided her in contributing to the sustainability of indigenous languages in her home country of Mexico. While the Archives Development Trainer, Viles began his work in linguistics to help revitalize his tribe’s language of Nuu-wee-ya’, or Oregon Dene.
They assist tribal citizens in learning how to access archival materials on their tribe’s languages, where and how to store that information once they find it, and then how to translate it into learning tools that can then assist in their revitalization efforts in their home communities. The primary piece of archival software used for training in this program is the Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA). ILDA was created by the Myaamia Center and has been in development since 2012. It is currently being used by tribal communities who are participating in National BoL.
After years of working with tribes to find and gather digital copies of language archives, they were able to expand training to include the development of individual community curated archives that will be used to support language learning activities at the community level. The advanced training is being carried out through a new apprenticeship program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. There will be a total of ten apprenticeships, with six already filled, as they start this new chapter for the National Breath of Life.
Dr. Doug Troy and Dr. Cam Shriver gave a tutorial and history on their project Aacimwaahkionkonci, “Stories from the Land”. This project is an interactive, historic map that reveals the movements and locations of Myaamiaki throughout history. The team working on this project over many years includes: staff from Miami University libraries, staff and graduate students from the Geography department, and graduate students from the Computer Science and Software Engineering department. Together, this amazing group has created a database of archival material that spans. centuries’ worth of information about Myaamionki, “Miami homelands.” Using maps, the team is able to demonstrate how Myaamia relationships to their homelands have changed over the years. This project was made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Grant.
The two demonstrated how this archival tool could be used to look up Myaamia people, places, and events and how they are interconnected. They showed a few examples including that of a small reserve in Indiana, called the ‘Longlois Reserve’. Despite being a relatively small parcel at only two square miles, this reserve required analyzing a fistful stack of 70 handwritten letters.
They hope this tool will be useful for Myaamiaki to discover more about their families and history, and hope to hear any feedback from Myaamiaki that can help direct this project into the future.
Over the past 20 years, botanist Dr. Michael Gonella has helped gather and organize plant knowledge for the Miami Tribe. The culmination of this work has led to the development of the Myaamia Ethnobotanical Database or Mahkihkiwa.
He began his graduate studies at Miami University in the early 2000s and it was there that he was contacted by Daryl Baldwin to assist in understanding the Myaamia ecological knowledge that the fledgling Myaamia Center was compiling.
In his presentation, Dr. Gonella showed how visitors to Mahkihkiwa might use it to learn more about Myaamia ecology. Plants can either be browsed through or searched for specifically, in Myaamiaataweenki, English, or using the plant’s scientific name. Each plant has its own page that will identify the different historical sources it was mentioned in and what traditional uses it may have had if the information is available.
Dr. Cam Shriver was back for his second presentation of the day as he and Kara Strass, Director of the Miami Tribe Relations Office in the Myaamia Center, discussed the unique relationship between the Miami Tribe and Miami University which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Dr. Shriver explained the twisting and turning history that led up to the relationship between the Tribe and University. From war and land cessions that allowed Miami University to be founded in Myaamionki, to visits to the campus by multiple Myaamia Chiefs nearly two centuries later.
The relationship between the two Miamis began in 1972 with the sudden arrival of Chief Forest Olds, but that relationship has been tended with a shared desire for neepwaantiinki, “learning from each other”.
Strass explained how the tending of that fire was strengthened with the addition of the Myaamia Center on Miami’s campus in 2001. The work of the Center aided Myaamia students in learning about their heritage and culture which in turn strengthened their academic success. Before the creation of the Myaamia Heritage course through the Center in 2003, the graduation rate for Myaamia students was 56%, but after that time has risen to 92%.
The relationship has only grown and strengthened over time and will continue to do so. To engage in more 50th anniversary celebrations visit the Miami Tribe Relations website.
Dr. David Costa and Dr. Hunter Thompson Lockwood work within the Language Research Office of the Myaamia Center and presented on the Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA), originally called the Miami-Illinois Digital Archive.
Dr. Costa has been heavily involved in the revitalization of Myaamiataweenki and has been studying Algonquin languages since the 1980s. He was happy to discover that Miami-Illinois has a variety of sources across 230 years to aid in ongoing language research. These dictionaries and manuscripts hold crucial linguistic material for language revitalization, but over time the need was identified for a more concise manner of searching through these materials.
So in 2012, ILDA was born. The archive serves as a digital database for all Myaamia language knowledge and more entries are constantly being added. At the time of the presentation, the archive boasted a whopping 78,428 total Myaamia entries, though by the time of this article’s posting it will likely have increased from there.
The National Breath of Life team also uses ILDA to help support the efforts of the language-learning communities they assist.
Throughout the presentation, Drs. Costa and Lockwood explained what it looks like to get the handwritten language information out of a couple-century-year-old manuscript, enter it into the database, and then perform their linguistic skills on the entries to discover the meaning behind them.
They suspect that within the next ten years they can add another 20-40,000 entries into the database, though the analysis of each entry will be going on for much longer.
The final presentation of the day was given by Dr. Haley Shea and a panel of current and former students of the Myaamia Heritage Award Program.
Dr. Shea works in the Myaamia Center and uses her background in psychology in the Nipwaayoni Acquisition and Assessment Team (NAAT), to observe the students of the Heritage Award Program to better understand how it impacts their lives.
From a range of backgrounds and levels of knowledge about their Myaamia heritage, these five students helped demonstrate how all Myaamiaki can benefit from the opportunity to learn about their culture.
Much has changed over the years for Myaamia students; the alumni had much smaller classes of Myaamia students and also did not have the central space on campus that current students now enjoy in the Bonham House, where they can often be found hanging out. The alumni noted that though there were plenty of strong friendships that came out of their time at the school, they were happy to see the increased camaraderie among the newest cohort of students.
As the Myaamia Center and its staff has grown, support on campus for students has grown as well, leading to many improvements in the lives of Heritage Award students. They can be found learning about traditional games like lacrosse outside or just talking with members of the Center’s staff to learn more about the topics that interest them. Due to the Heritage courses students take and the Center’s efforts, graduation rates have skyrocketed over the years.
From NAAT’s work, it is clear to see that a Myaamia student’s time on campus markedly changes their views on identity and how they engage with the Tribe. Despite the differences in the alums and current students, what they all seem to have in common is an appreciation for their culture and a desire to keep coming back.
To discover more about these projects, visit the 2022 Myaamiaki Conference YouTube Playlist where all of the 9th biennial Myaamiaki Conference presentations are available to watch.
Updated: April 21, 2022