Myaamia Metaphoric Expression: Wellness Edition

The use of metaphors can be incredibly powerful to aid in the communication and understanding of complex concepts or ideas. For Myaamiaki, metaphoric expressions in the language are common and can serve as a way to communicate in a less direct fashion. A good historical example of a Myaamia metaphor is keešiikikoleehwaki which has a literal meaning ‘I tickle his nose’ but metaphorically means ‘it’s difficult to get something from him’. Many of these historically referenced metaphors, like this one, need further investigation to better understand their use and context. However, we intentionally use metaphors for a contemporary purpose of connecting with cultural perceptions and communicating complex ideas. 

This blog post will outline three metaphors that have been created by Myaamia Center scholars, in order to communicate cultural perceptions of wellness and community connection for Myaamiaki. These metaphors will set the stage for understanding a larger model of wellness that will be shared with the community over time. These metaphors include: 

  1. nimasaanaapiikoma ‘my rope’ 
  2. myaamia atahsapimaawali ‘the Myaamia Community web’ 
  3. wiikiaami ‘lodge’

Some of these metaphors may be familiar to those engaged in cultural programming, while others may be new to you. Together, these three metaphors converge to physically illustrate the complexity of an individual Myaamia experience of wellness in the community. 

Nimasaanaapiikoma: The Individual Rope Metaphor 

Masaanaapiikwa ‘rope’ is being used in this context to signify individual strength or well-being. We use masaanaapiikwa to capture, secure, drag, control, climb, and to generally keep us safe. These many important uses are likely central to its animate marking in Myaamiaataweenki. Within the rope, there are many individual strands and fibers that are twisted into an elongated shape. This bringing together of many individual strands provides the tensile strength needed to keep the rope strong and long-lasting. 

The hand of a myaamia youth holding a spool wrapped in cordage. The wrist of the youth is wearing a cordage blanket.
Myaamia youth displaying a spool of cordage at 2019 Oklahoma Eewansaapita Summer Program.
Photo by Karen Baldwin

Similar to the woven components of a rope, each mihtohseenia ‘human, person’ engages with unique aspects of a Myaamia existence (Myaamia knowledge, cultural practices, value system, etc.) in our own ways, which comprise some strands within individual strands of the rope. We also recognize that people possess strands from other cultural groups they are a part of, which contribute to individual complexity and diversity within the community and only strengthens our collective. This interaction with Myaamia ways of knowing and being contributes to our own unique version of a woven rope that provides us with our own personal sources of strength. 

This year at annual meeting, akima, Chief Lankford, said something along these lines with his comment:

“Being Myaamia is about what you know [pointing to his head] and how you feel in here [pointing to his heart].” 

akima, Chief Doug Lankford

That is the essence of what this individual rope metaphor is all about. What makes us who we are as strong and resilient Myaamia people is about connecting with our communal knowledge system and allowing that knowledge to shape our sense of self and identity when we engage with each other in a process of sharing and reinforcing who we are as a distinct people. 

Within each individual rope are individual strands representing all the pieces of knowledge that we hold, our core values, and health and well-being. These individual strands, when woven together, produce vitality and strength for a Myaamia person. As noted above, this individual weaving only gets stronger when we join together as a community, where our ropes are intertwined to create a web of collective strength, wisdom and experiences shared by others (read more about the community web metaphor below). The experience of weaving a greater web from our individual ropes creates a sense of belonging and purpose that is more powerful than anything we can ever create on our own. 

A shadow of a human being wrapped in a three-strand braid.
Nimasaanaapiikoma: The Individual Rope
Image created by Carole Katz

Breaking and Mending of the Individual Rope

As a way to think about how events impact our lives and personal well-being, we can think of it like keehkaapiikasici ‘breaking’ and neehaapiikasicipilakioni ‘mending’ of the rope. Occasionally, the individual strands of our rope are weakened or, in some cases, broken entirely for any number of reasons. Everyone, at some point in their life, experiences discomfort, trauma, or an event(s) that causes pain and distress. This could be an illness, death, an action that caused someone harm, or a decision that intentionally or unintentionally causes oneself pain. These events tend to lead to any number of physical or emotional outcomes (positive or negative). This is a normal part of maintaining a proper life.

When this breaking occurs, we must mend, replace, and/or reweave the individual strands of our rope as a form of life maintenance. This inherently means that our rope will change over time and we will have both periods of weakness or struggle as well as moments of strength and growth. As we continue to gain knowledge and experience as Myaamia people throughout our lives, our woven-selves transform and change to reflect our collective experiences. To be done properly, and in a way congruent with Myaamia ways of knowing and being, this process of breaking and mending requires recognition, reflection, and a response. It is through this process of mending that we grow and shape ourselves to be resilient individuals who then become important contributors to the community web. 

Myaamia Atahsapimawaali: The Myaamia Community Web Metaphor

The interwoven fabric of our communal lives, across time, is represented metaphorically in the myaamia atahsapimawaali ‘Myaamia community web’. Each of us possesses our own individual rope (see nimasaanaapiikoma metaphor above) that is further interconnected with the ropes of other Myaamiaki to form a web-like structure. The vitality, and subsequent well-being, of our community web depends on the collective strength of the individual strands and the extent of their contribution to the web over time. The strength of one’s attachment towards the web is in part a reflection of their myaamia nipwaayoni ‘Myaamia knowledge’, stability of kinship ties, sense of connectedness to the community, and invested commitments throughout their lives. 

Thirty black dots in a circle, all interconnected with black lines and forming the appearance of a web.
myaamia atahsapimawaali ‘Myaamia Community Web’
Image created by Carole Katz

When each Myaamia person engages in behaviors that serve to strengthen their individual rope, the positive energy is transmitted to the community web. Conversely, when an individual engages in harmful behaviors, their individual rope is often weakened and their struggle is felt by others in the web of connectivity. When we are connected to each other and holding tight to our community web, we feel the ebb and flow of individual life experiences. The participants who create and strengthen this web are considered eeweentiiciki ‘inter-related’. When someone is struggling, it is the web that can support them through difficult periods as long as they don’t let go. Survival of the community hinges on soonkinetiiyanwki ‘holding firmly to each other’ through our web of connectivity and sharing. 

Participants and staff from the 2019 Indiana Eemamwiciki Summer Program standing in a circle, holding rope that connects them to one another. The rope appears to form an interconnected web.
Participants in 2019 eemamwiciki programs in Fort Wayne, Indiana engaging in community web activity. 
Photo by Jonathan Fox

Wiikiaami ‘lodge’ Metaphor

Myaamia values are the ways of interacting and existing within the Myaamia community and help to form the connections that keep the community web strong. The values help us to understand the underlying motivations for our behaviors and stem from myaamia nipwaayoni ‘Myaamia knowledge’. For many, these values are one lens (among many) through which they are able to experience the world. 

Metaphorically, our value system is represented by a wiikiaami ‘lodge’ structure (see image below) that Myaamiaki historically called home.  Within the wiikiaami, Myaamiaki have always passed along stories and knowledge across generations. The strength of the wiikiaami stems from the bent saplings, making it flexible but able to withstand external elements and pressures. Even when there is significant pressure to the frame, it is usually able to bounce back to its original shape as a protective dome afterwards. Each of the eight poles that makes up the structure has a purpose for providing different levels of security and stability for inhabitants. Similarly, each of our values hold us together as a community and make us resilient to outside pressures and expectations. 

A depiction of a wiikiaamia mantepwayi or lodge frame. The saplings are bent into a dome-like structure and have ties on each pole that are black, red, yellow, and blue. The words for each of the eight myaamia values are written on the poles.
Image of a wiikiaami mantepwayi ‘lodge frame’ with the myaamia values displayed on each pole.
Image created by Carole Katz

The four vertical poles in black are the foundations of the value system (and the wiikiaami) and are considered stable across time, as evidenced by their presence in stories both past and present.  These values are seen to be more foundational and secure, as they have emerged over time through generations of evolving wisdom.

  • Neepwaahkaayankwi ‘we are wise, conscious, aware’
  • Eeweentiiyankwi ‘we are related to each other’
  • Eeyaakwaamisiyankwi ‘we strive for (something)’
  • Peekinaakosiyankwi ‘we are generous, kind’

Subsequently, there are two vertical poles in red that provide strength and the most support for the structure. These values emerge in the behaviors that are observable in Myaamiaki across time.

  • Neehweeyankwi ‘we speak well’
  • Aahkohkeelintiiyankwi ‘we care for each other’

Then, there are two poles that run horizontally around the structure in blue and yellow, and while they are smaller, weaker, and more flexible, they provide a stabilization for the mantepwayi ‘lodge frame’.  

  • paahpilwaayankwi ‘we joke, are humorous’
  • aahkwaapawaayankwi ‘we dream’

Ultimately, the various poles that make up the mantepwayi work together to make up the strongest possible structure for Myaamiaki. Similarly, the values work together across individuals and across time to keep us close and resilient as a tribal community. They also serve to both connect us as a community (connection with community web metaphor) and guide our individual decisions and paths toward living well (connection with individual rope metaphor). 


These three metaphors together serve as foundational concepts that demonstrate the interwoven complexity of individual wellness and community cohesiveness. Our understanding of these concepts and their application are important for assessment and education, but also help the tribal community understand the forces that are at work in the context of our revitalization efforts that have led to myaamiaki eemamwicki ‘the Myaamia Awakening’. Developing our shared understanding provides us with more tangible information that helps guide appropriate decisions and behaviors within a Myaamia context. 

It is the goal of the Nipwaayoni Acquisition and Assessment Team (NAATeam) at the Myaamia Center to continue to share our research and understandings of community wellness with the tribal community. This discussion of wellness-related metaphors is the first step in that journey, so be sure to stay tuned for future discussions of components of Myaamia wellness as they develop. 

Updated: August 5, 2022

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kent Dunn says:

    Regarding the community web illustration: the community would be a lot stronger if the people next to each person were connected. The community looks weak otherwise.

    1. Haley Shea says:

      neewe ‘thank you’ for interacting with our content, Kent. From our perspective, each person in the web is, in fact, connected to every other person through the connections in the middle. These connections are our engagement with our tribal knowledge system. The strength of the web lies in the strength of each individual who is present.

      We have used this model for almost 20 years in our youth programs and it is generally viewed by our tribal youth as a strengthening feature of our community and its efforts.

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