Mahkihkiwa: the Myaamia Ethnobotanical Database

After years of research, Mahkihkiwa, a Myaamia Ethnobotanical Database is ready for the community to use! Mahkihkiwa or ‘herb medicine’ in English, was chosen as the name to signify the important role plants play in our culture and lives as Myaamia people.

This database consolidates practical uses and Myaamia knowledge of local plants into a searchable website. The site preserves the original primary sources while offering updated spellings and species identification. It serves as a practical field guide for our community members to reestablish a relationship with wild plants and crops in their region.

A close up of a large needle being used to weave a cattail mat
Weaving cattails to create a mat at a workshop in Kiihkayonki, ‘Ft. Wayne,’ Indiana in 2019. Photo by Doug Peconge.

Using Mahkihkiwa

When using the website, you can search for a specific plant or browse over 100 plants in the ethnobotanical database. Each entry in Mahkihkiwa includes the scientific, common, and Myaamia names, making it easy to use the search feature and do more research on the species.

Each entry also includes all known Myaamia archival and botanical sources. This includes information on a plant’s changes throughout the seasons, habitat information, and in-depth information on its known uses with examples.

By including primary archival information on each entry, Mahkihkiwa offers as much information to our community as possible. Including this information exposes us to the historical context that can inform contemporary usage of plants, and allows us to interpret the archival data, often documented by an outsider to the community, for ourselves.

A woman using a large wooden spoon to stir a large pot
Haley Shea learns to make hominy from corn at a workshop in 2021. Photo by Karen L. Baldwin.

As a result, the database has the unique ability to present historical information in a way that strengthens our connections to the past, elder knowledge, and understanding of cultural continuity over time.

Myaamia Ethnobotanical Research

The Mahkihkiwa project has been in development for 15 years, when Daryl Baldwin and Mike Gonella began researching and documenting Myaamia plant use.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Mike and ask him about the project. 

For many of us, the practice of growing, harvesting, and using plants from our environments had gone dormant for a period of time.

Most Myaamia ethnobotanical information could only be found in the memories of a handful of community elders and buried deep within various archives in the United States and Canada. In the early 2000s, Daryl had just arrived at Miami University as the first employee of the Myaamia Project (that would later become the Myaamia Center) when he met Mike, a graduate student studying botany.

Two men consulting field notes in a large natural area
Daryl Baldwin and Mike Gonella conduct field research together in Oklahoma. Photo by Andrew J. Strack.

Before enrolling at Miami, Mike worked with the U.S. Forest Service, where he had the opportunity to work with Indigenous communities collecting plants for basketry and other cultural practices. This inspired him to continue working with Indigenous groups to better understand relationships between humans and plants as he studied botany.

Man holding a mounted plant example
Mike Gonella presents his research to the Miami Tribe community at a gathering in 2005. Photo by Karen L. Baldwin.

It was important to Mike that his work was tribally-led. He was interested in helping a community reach its goals, whatever they may be.

After learning of Mike’s interest in Native American plant uses, Daryl and Mike began the first ethnobotanical study for the Myaamia community. This is when Mike began interviewing Tribal elders about their plant knowledge and organizing data from the archives.

Man showing a plant to three women
Mike Gonella with Elder Mildred Walker and Sherrie Sutterfield in Oklahoma harvesting plants. Photo by Karen L. Baldwin

Mike said he was going to try to find as much ethnobotanical information about the Myaamia as possible.

Developing a Database

He finished his dissertation on Myaamia plant use in 2007. However, the archival and botanical information about Myaamia plant use continued to grow, so Mike continued working with the Miami Tribe to further develop and document these botanical resources and knowledge.

Young girl holding a bag filled with harvested milkweed
Emma Baldwin, helps collect leninša, ‘common milkweed’ while Mike and her father Daryl conduct field research in 2003. Photo by Karen Baldwin.

While the dissertation was complete and being used by Myaamia people, the data still wasn’t very user-friendly nor easily available to all tribe members, Mike said.

The Myaamia Center wanted the community to have the ability to easily access the wide range of plant and cultural information now available.

In 2017, students from Miami University’s Computer Science and Software Engineering program took this data and began developing prototypes of Mahkihkiwa. The website was further developed and continues to be refined by Miami University Graduate Assistants in the Myaamia Center.

Mike was excited about the online database as it can be updated as research continues and cultural practices are revitalized. The website is able to reflect the continued evolution and dynamic nature of the Myaamia people and culture, Mike said.

The Mahkihkiwa database will continue to grow and advance its capabilities to meet the growing educational needs of the Myaamia community.

Young girl pulling husk off of Myaamia corn
Myaamia youth, Adeline Fox, helping to harvest miincipi, ‘corn’ at Miami University’s Environmental Research Center in 2021. Photo by Jonathan Fox.

You can explore Mahkihkiwa here and think about your connections to the plants and land in your area.

If you would like to know more about the development of Mahkihkiwa, we encourage you to watch this video of Mike Gonella’s presentation at the 2022 Myaamiaki Conference.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lori Matthews says:

    Wonderful research

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