I (Haley) have long wondered about the psychological impacts that living in a diasporic state can have on a group of people, and in particular for Myaamiaki. I have had hunches based on my own experiences and observations within our community regarding specifically the impacts living in a diasporic community might have on a group’s shared identity.
However, I went into this research journey with the assumption that a lot has been written on this topic for Native people generally – and that simply isn’t the case. There is an interdisciplinary field of diaspora studies, but as far as I can tell, there is relatively little focusing specifically on Native peoples. Therefore, this blog post serves as the beginning stage of what will hopefully be a rewarding research project in the years to come.
I (George) have also long been interested in the impact of living in diaspora on our Myaamia community. As an historian, I’ve researched some of the key historical eras during which many Myaamiaki were pushed into diaspora, and as an educator I’ve experienced the impacts of having students come into our programs from across our diaspora. I’ve long felt that developing a better understanding of our diaspora will help us deepen our understanding of our past and help us better respond to the educational challenges of our present.
One might wonder why we even need to define the term diaspora. Well, the term diaspora seems to originate with the mass migration of Jewish people. It has since been expanded and applied to many other groups including Armenian, Japanese, Indian, Polynesian, and Latin American communities among others. This expansion of the term is fairly controversial, with certain communities perceiving others to misappropriate the term for their own gain.
Today, diaspora is colloquially used in reference to any group of people with a unified identity who historically lived in a particular geographical region, but due to any number of circumstances, today live elsewhere. However, this definition is considered by folks in diaspora studies as being too vague and inclusive of any immigrant community without capturing the complexities of people who have been globally dispersed. Therefore, several additional criteria for the diasporic experience have been proposed, including:
- The group has experienced a collective trauma
- The community feels the “diasporic sense” or a sense of disrootedness, nostalgia, alienation, and longing for belonging
- Collective memories of the homeland, people, and/or things left behind
- A strong contemporary community feeling of solidarity and retaining cultural identity and ties
- Idealization of ancestral home with a commitment to maintain and restore it
- Strong ethnic group consciousness
- Empathy for and solidarity with co-ethnic members
Additionally, there is a differentiation amongst the various forces that led to or caused the diaspora including victim/refugee (result of war or expulsion), labor/service (result of pursuit of jobs), imperial/colonial (result of political expansion), and trade (result of business enterprises). Only more recently has the term been applied to Native peoples, with a recognition that Native people in the Americas experienced both imperial/colonial and labor/service forces.
Diaspora, then, refers to being uprooted from one’s homeland and being forced to create a new “home,” which leads to complex psychological outcomes.
Historical Phenomena that led to our Diaspora
Today, the Miami Tribe has just over 7,000 citizens living in nearly every state of the United States as well as outside the boundaries of the U.S. There is no easy straight line explanation for how this diaspora came into being, but there are a few identifiable historical moments that produced significant portions of the diaspora. First, the 1846 forced Removal fractured the Myaamia population into two with over 320 people removed to the new national reservation in what would become eastern Kansas and around 150 people allowed to remain behind on family reserves in the Wabash River Valley in northern Indiana (if you want to learn more about this period of forced removal, take a look at Diane Hunter’s excellent series of removal commemoration posts on this blog). The second forced removal (1867-1884) from Kansas to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) fractured the nation further as over a hundred tribal citizens relocated to Indian Territory and dozens of Myaamia people remained behind in Kansas on their reserves. In the decades that followed the second removal, the Miami Nation’s shared reservation with the Peoria Nation in Indian Territory was allotted and much of the Miami reserve and allotment lands in all three locations were lost to the nation and its people through a variety of causes. As this land loss accelerated in the early 20th century, many Myaamia people left our homelands in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Indiana in order to find jobs as laborers in order to support their families. The Great Depression and the post-World War II economy were significant push forces that atomized many extended family kin groups and drove nuclear families to travel long distances in order to find economic stability.
Question Asking about Psychology of Diaspora
As a result of this gap in the literature, we wanted to set forth a series of questions for a few reasons. First, we know that there are people reading this blog who may have more information than we do and can reach out with resources and knowledge. Second, we want to guide our research process with what interests our community the most. These questions will hopefully serve as guideposts for this work. Third, we hope the Myaamia community will feel validated that we are all asking similar questions about this topic. Therefore, we list the questions below (in no particular order) alongside rationales for why we are interested in them. If you have knowledge and/or other questions about this topic, let us know in the comments down below and/or contact us via email.
Question 1: Which Myaamia families are critical to developing our understanding of our history of diaspora?
Stories are a large part of passing along historical, cultural, and social knowledge within the Myaamia community. Central to those stories, and generally Myaamia ways of being, are kinship relations and how families have contributed to where and who we are today as a people. This story of diaspora is no different, we recognize that there are likely key figures and family groups within the community who have impacted our current diasporic state.
Question 2: What does it mean to be a nation who moves and creates a new homeland?
How did the Miami Nation create new homelands in Waapankiaakamionki ‘Marais des Cygnes River Valley’ (Eastern Kansas) and Noošonke Siipionki ‘Neosho River Valley’ (Northeastern Oklahoma) following the two forced removals? We think the Myaamia diaspora is slightly unique when compared against the typical immigration-centered models that are more commonly studied in diaspora studies. In our case, the initial diaspora (1846-1884) was produced by the Miami Nation’s forced relocation with significant populations of Myaamiaki remaining behind in Indiana and Kansas. This is the inverse of the typical model in which citizens leave their home nation to establish a new residency in a “foreign” location. For our people, the nation and many of its citizens were moved to a place that, at the time of the move, was outside of our homelands. At the same time, those who are in diaspora following the two forced removals are those who stayed in Indiana on our historic homelands and in Kansas on our new homelands (post 1846).
Question 3: How does our current diasporic state impact Myaamia identity?
There has been significant Psychological research on the impact of immigration on group-level identity. The most common models suggest that there is some “universal” acculturation experience. Acculturation is the plan, method, or process that groups use in reformulating their identity in new cultural contexts. Most commonly, acculturative identity is described in one of four states:
- Assimilation: when the individual drops their original/heritage identity in favor of the identity in their new cultural context.
- Separation: when the individual holds onto their heritage identity and makes no attempt at interacting with the new cultural group/identity.
- Marginalization: when the individual does not identify either with their heritage identity nor with the new cultural group.
- Integration: often described as the “ideal” this is when the individual is able to maintain their heritage identity and also learn to actively interact and participate in the new cultural group.
While there may be glimmers of truth or accuracy for some people’s experiences within these sorts of models, the diasporic experience contributes to a wide variety of outcomes and this is hard to account for in a single identity model. Therefore, we want to ask how diaspora has influenced identity for Myaamiaki specifically.
Question 4: What does it mean to live apart from other community members?
Myaamiaki have a unique situation in which we were removed from our original homelands, and today live in a state of dispersal. With folks all across the U.S. and even internationally, many of us live apart from our governmental body as well as away from other Myaamiaki. How does this contemporary state of dispersal impact our group dynamic, state of wellbeing, as well as collective and individual identities?
While we have used this blog as our first attempt at defining and aligning our research aims for this work, we also hope that readers will connect to this project and share stories with us that help elaborate on the story of diaspora for Myaamiaki. So, if you have any stories or knowledge about how diaspora impacted yourself, your families, or the community as a whole, please reach out and share them with us!
 Chapparban, Sajaudeen Nijamodeen. “Religious identity and politics of citizenship in South Asia: A reflection on refugees and migrants in India.” Development 63, no. 1 (2020): 52-59. Chapparban does not specifically address where chattel slavery fits into this model, but we believe that most historic chattel slavery, especially in what became the U.S., was driven by colonial/imperial processes.
 Neewe to Cameron Shriver for first pointing out to us the potential for understanding this diaspora as a possible inversion of the usual diasporic model.
 Berry, John W. “Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation.” Applied psychology 46, no. 1 (1997): 5-34.
 Bhatia, Sunil, and Anjali Ram. “Theorizing identity in transnational and diaspora cultures: A critical approach to acculturation.” International journal of intercultural Relations 33, no. 2 (2009): 140-149.