Every year, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma hosts tribal members ages 6 and older for a summer experience designed to teach them about Myaamia culture and language. There are six rotating themes for this summer experience, with the idea that participants who go through the program will eventually be exposed to each. Not a typical classroom experience, participants really learn by doing – by engaging in art, games, song and dance, and much more.
Each year since 2018, the Office of Assessment and Evaluation (OAE; formerly the NAATeam) has conducted assessments of this summer program experience. Many of you reading this have participated in them yourself (as a participant or parent of a participant). This blog post is intended to summarize some of the data we have collected to provide past participants with a snapshot of the data to validate their experiences. Additionally, we hope to provide some insight into the experience for people who are interested but haven’t yet attended.
Youth Participant Experiences
First and foremost, 100% of youth participants have indicated they had fun at camp since 2019. Given that this is the primary goal of the program, this is a very important finding. We know that if participants are having fun, they will be more likely to continue engaging throughout their lifespan. Across the board, when asked what participants are excited about doing at camp (before it starts), they talk about lacrosse and other outdoor programming. Participants get really excited about being able to learn new lacrosse skills and then play whole games with peers. However, we see that as participants age, they also seem to be more excited about connecting with Myaamia peers. They begin to recognize the value of community and family.
We ask participants questions about their sense of belonging within the Myaamia community. At the start of the week, participants who have attended two or fewer times in the past indicate a significantly lower sense of belonging compared to those who had attended three or more times. We also see a significant increase in sense of belonging in all participants when comparing their responses before and after camp. Ultimately, this tells us that a single week is enough to increase participants’ sense of belonging in the Myaamia community and the more often they attend the program, the more they feel they belong.
While it isn’t a typical schooling format, understanding what is learned is an important part of our assessments. The youth tell us that they learn about Myaamiaataaweenki ‘Myaamia language’, games, song and dance, and implicitly learn about Myaamia values. Regarding language learning, those who attend the program more frequently tend to view the Myaamia language as being more important. This tells us that more exposure to the language and the community itself helps the youth to personally connect with the language. All this to say, youth participants are gaining both explicit lessons about Myaamia language and culture and also picking up on implicit messages about Myaamia ways of being.
Participants get excited about being able to share what they know about Myaamia language and culture with others (family, friends, etc.) when they leave. At the end of the week, participants tell us their favorite parts of the experience were playing lacrosse (of course), learning the language, and meeting new friends/relatives.
We also ask parents questions about their child(ren)’s experiences in the program. 100% of parents indicated that their child had fun while participating in the program. Largely, parents confirm what their children tell us about what they have learned – their kids are sharing new knowledge of language, games, songs, and even theme-specific content when they come home at the end of the day. Many tell us their kids are very tired (in a good way) from being so active and engaged while at camp.
Parents also have goals for what they want their kids to learn. They tell us that they want their kids to gain a sense of community, meet other Myaamia youth, and learn Myaamia language and culture. Since 2019, roughly 96% of parents indicated that their children met their goals during camp. Parents frequently tell us they are so happy that their children have this opportunity to engage with the community and their heritage in a meaningful way.
Adult Participant Experience
The Neehsapita summer program is for anyone in the Myaamia community (including tribal spouses) 18 years of age and older and was established in 2021. The first year was held in an at-home format due to COVID-19, but in 2022 was held in-person for the first time. Though the change in format resulted in a more experiential learning opportunity, the outcomes we noticed are similar across both years.
Same as the children, 100% of the participants told us they had fun throughout the course of the program. With the adults, all participants agreed that it is important for them to know the Myaamia language, regardless of how much experience they had with the language and tribal community prior to the program. All of the participants said they share what they know with family and friends, with one saying they’ll tell “anyone who will listen”.
One of the most substantial findings is an increase in the participants’ sense of belonging within the Myaamia community. In fact, one participant said,
“…even I (having been & still am so far removed from the tribe) can be accepted & encouraged to learn and use what I learn without feeling like I’m an outsider. The sense of belonging is something I never thought I could hope for.”
The in-person experience in particular allowed participants to connect with other Myaamiaki while making tangible products (moccasins and lacrosse sticks in 2022) and folks enjoy being able to direct their own learning experience. Participants who engage in the at-home experience enjoy when they are able to meet synchronously via Zoom and also connect with other participants. If you can’t tell, the sense of community and connection is one of the most valuable components of this program across age groups.
It is also important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Tribe to move this programming to a remote space, offering programming for folks regardless of where they live. Though this was a difficult transition for all, it also means that we have been able to continue remote programming for anyone who is unable to make it to Oklahoma or Indiana to participate in the programs. Our research shows similar outcomes in an “at-home” format compared to in-person. While everyone reports missing the face-to-face connections, there are still significant learning and connections being made.
In 2023, the theme for the program is kiikinaana ‘our homes.’ Participants will explore the changing nature of Myaamia homes over time as places where Myaamia family and community have been continually adapting over the centuries. Our goal is to help our participants reinforce the idea that their own homes are Myaamia dwellings. The applications will become available for all on March 10, 2023. Should you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to Joshua Sutterfield at email@example.com or 918-325-0107.