Over time, Myaamia people have lived in a wide variety dwelling types. The traditional home of the Myaamia is called wiikiaami (click to hear pronuncation).  A wiikiaami is a domed structure that could be covered in cattail reed mats or bark depending on the season. Often these were also lined with bulrush mats, which were decorated. The layers of mats created an insulated space, which kept these dwellings warm and dry. Wiikiaami is often called a wigwam in English. Today, wiikiaami is a word that Myaamia people can use for any house or dwelling.

kiikapwa wiikiaami

This Kickapoo wiikiaami is like those still built by Myaamia people. The image shows the layers of cattail mats used to keep homes warm and dry.

wiikiaami 2011

This wiikiaami was built by Myaamia people as a part of the Eewansaapita youth program in 2011. The cattail mats were provided by Dani Tippman. The group did not have enough to cover the roof, so a canvas tarp was used instead.

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Was “Aquenackwe” Little Turtle’s Father?

Was “Aquenackwe” Little Turtle’s father?  Probably not.  Like many Myaamia (Miami) children, I grew up with stories of family genealogy.  One common story that I heard was that my family descended from Little Turtle’s sister, Tahkamwa (Maria Louisa Richardville).  In family genealogies, Little Turtle and Tahkamwa’s father was always listed as “Aquenackwe” or “Aquenackqua” sometimes with the English “The Turtle.”  Later in life, as I began learn to speak our heritage language and started to investigate historical documents for myself, I learned how much confusion there was around this name and how small mistakes, made by amateur American historians, spread this confusion far and wide.

The confusion began in the late 1800s, as early midwestern historians misread an already poorly recorded version of the name Mihšihkinaahkwa.  Through a series of errors in hearing and writing, this common Myaamia name was replaced by “Aquenackwe” in the historical record.  This elder Mihšihkinaahkwa was born sometime in the early 1700s and died sometime in the mid to late 1700s.  The younger Mihšihkinaahkwa, who would become famous as the Myaamia war leader called “Little Turtle,” was born around 1750 and died in 1812.  These two men may have been father and son, but there is substantial doubt around that point as well.  The story of how the name of the elder Mihšihkinaahkwa became confused as “Aquenackwe” is an interesting one that shines a light on the difficulties that historians have had understanding Myaamia names and kinship.

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In many historical works readers encounter the term Twigh Twee as one name for Myaamia (Miami) People.  So where did this unique name come from?  The short answer is that we don’t know for sure, but the name probably came from the Cherokee or the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).  The longer and more complicated answer is a little more interesting.

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Individual independence was highly valued in Myaamia village communities and examples abound of leaders informing Europeans that they could “order” nothing and that in fact the more they gave orders the more they diminished their status.  In 1721, Father Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix stated: “These chiefs generally have no great marks of outward respect paid them, and if they are never disobeyed, it is because they know how to set bounds to their authority.  It is true that they request or propose, rather than command; and never exceed the boundaries of that small share of authority with which they are invested.”

The daily stuff of life, the boring humdrum that fed, clothed, housed, and educated the community didn’t require governance.  Individuals and family groups worked this stuff out for themselves. In short, leaders had no control over the lives of their people. Instead, leaders were perceived as servants, and it might be more aptly stated that their people controlled them. Additionally, no village could dictate to other villages.  A particular village might be more influential than others, but there was no control exerted. Below, is a list of Myaamia leadership positions that would have existed in a typical village in the 1700s.

akima (male civil leader) – Within each politically autonomous village there was typically one akima, although at times some villages were known to have civil leaders working in pairs or triads.  The akima served his community as an ambassador and as a mediator in disputes or discussions that the community desired to create consensus around.

akimaahkwia (female civil leader) – Each village also had one akimaahkwia, though just like their male counterparts there could be more than one.  There was usually a family relationship between the akima and akimaahkwia. The akimaahkwia served her community as a mediator in disputes or discussions that the community desired to create consensus around.  She worked with female heads of families in this endeavor.

kaapia (the chief’s assistant) – The kaapia was responsible for advising the akima and for equitably dividing things that the village had gained collectively.

neenawihtoowa (war party leader) – they served their villages primarily as the leaders of war parties, which were small groups of 30 men who sought to attack an enemy villages to take captives for adoption or for killing in reprisal for a death within their home village.  War leaders also served as village police, who enforced restrictions regarding disruptions of group hunts and abuse of resources important to the group.

maawikima (council chief) – the maawikima was selected when multiple villages came together for negotiations and needed to send a representative to speak for the whole group.  This role became increasingly important during the decades that followed the Treaty of Greenville (1795).

maamiikaahkia akima (large scale war leader) – this war leader worked to coordinate the efforts of many war party leaders from many villages.  Sometimes this leader coordinated war efforts between Myaamia villages and near neighbors like the Wyandot, Shawnee, Delaware, etc. The maamiikaahkia akima is a newer position that evolved during the heightened conflicts of the 1780s and 1790s.

We have never found any language relative to the mound complexes or mound building in general.  It is also interesting to note that in the vast historical record there is no mention of the Myaamia having any association with the mounds other than they knew they were there and did not disturb them.  There are, however, extensive mound vocabularies in other non-Algonquian languages like Muskogean languages.