By Isaac Stephani and Cam Shriver

Note: This blog post stems from original research conducted by undergraduate student Isaac Stephani in Dr. Cam Shriver’s Intro to the Miami Tribe class at Miami University in spring 2019.

In late September of 1817, the Treaty of Fort Meigs, also known as the Treaty of Maumee Rapids, was signed. In it, six Native nations collectively ceded over 4.5 million acres of territory to the United States. Representing the United States was Governor of the Michigan territory Lewis Cass, and Ohio legislator Duncan McArthur, while numerous leaders represented the six Native tribes present: ​Wyandot​s, ​Senecas, Delawares, Shawnees, Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Ojibwes. Marking one of the largest cessions of land by Native peoples since the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, the Treaty of Fort Meigs was part of a larger effort to move Native people Westward of the Mississippi River, as was Lewis Cass’ objective over the course of his nearly three decades as Governor of the Michigan territory.[1] Secretary of War George Graham, who oversaw the U.S. Indian Department, congratulated Cass on his negotiation at Fort Meigs, writing that the “extent of cession far exceed[s] my most sanguine expectations.”[2] But despite the treaty’s cession of land that the Miami leader Mihšihkinaahkwa ‘Little Turtle’ had claimed as belonging to the Miami nation, no Myaamia leaders signed it. Where were the Myaamia at the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs? Until now, we have had little evidence to explain Myaamia feelings at the time; there are still questions to answer. But the lack of Myaamia participation at Fort Meigs contextualizes the Treaty of St. Mary’s, signed by Myaamia leaders just over a year later on October 6, 1818, which ceded a huge area of Miami country. It also puts into clearer focus the pressures on Native American nations to yield swaths of their heritage homelands. Read the rest of this entry »

By George Ironstrack & Cameron Shriver

aacimwitaawi: ciikaahkwe iihkipisinonki waapaahšiki siipionki neehi nimacihsinwi siipionki, niiyaaha myaamiaki eeminooteeciki. aalinta naapiši eeminooteeciki waapanahkiaki. wiihsa mihtohseeniaki weešitookiki weehki-wiikiaama, wiiyoonkonci mihši-maalhsaki šaakosankiki amenooteenawa.

‘Let us recount: Near Peru, Indiana on the Wabash and Mississinewa Rivers, there the Miami Indians build a town. Some Delawares built a town there as well. Many people had built new houses because the Americans had burned their villages.’[1]

Early in the morning on Dec. 17, 1812, three days before the winter solstice, men on horseback rode into the towns located at the confluence of the Waapaahšiki Siipiiwi ‘Wabash River’ and Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi ‘Mississinewa River.’ Their arrival alerted the communities to an attack on the Waapanahkia ‘Delaware’ and Myaamia villages on the Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi, about a two-hour horseback ride to the south.

Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, refugees from these villages surged into the Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi towns on foot. Their arrival likely spread a sense of fear and panic. Myaamia people rightly worried that the Mihši-Maalhsa–the American “long knives”– would continue down the Mississinewa River to attack and destroy the remaining Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi towns.

The evacuees reported the details of that morning’s attack to the people of the Nimacihsinwi Siipiiwi towns. Shortly after dawn, the Mihši-Maalhsa surprised the southernmost Mississinewa valley village, a Waapanahkia community on the river’s east bank. Most of the villagers fled, but a few men engaged in a brief firefight with the American soldiers in order to protect their escaping families.[2]

In the skirmish, the Mihši-Maalhsa killed seven of the men and captured 42 residents of the village, mostly women, children, and older men. Later, the villagers heard that the Mihši-Maalhsa killed a wounded man who, after capture, “fell upon his knees pleading for mercy, declaring he was a Delaware,” before being executed and scalped. Years later, a veteran of the attack recalled an American officer’s commentary on the violent and disorderly conduct of the troops, “We shall suffer for this, we have not seen the end.”[3]

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Cecaahkwa Kiilhswa is the third lunar month of the Myaamia lunar calendar. Like the other months named for birds, Cecaahkwa Kiilhswa is associated with the process of transition from pipoonwi (winter) into niipinwi (summer). The month is named for cecaahkwa ‘Sandhill Crane – grus canadensis.’


cecaahkwa (Sandhill Crane) performing a mating dance

Around this time of year, Sandhill Cranes return from their winter nesting grounds in what is today the state of Florida.  Historically, some cranes nested in our traditional homelands along the Wabash River Valley and some traveled to other nesting grounds throughout the midwest.  This moon marks an important moment of return, rebirth, and renewal for an animal, cecaahkwa, that is closely associated with Myaamia people.  Delaware and various Iroquois speaking peoples, who originally lived to our east and south, referred to the Myaamia as the “Twigh Twee” after the call of the Sandhill Crane.

Peace 3

Signature of Myaamia leader on Great Peace of 1701

In the past, Myaamia people would mark the edges of our lands by blazing the head of cecaahkwa into trees along major trails.  In 1701, a Myaamia leader signed a treaty with this very symbol. Cecaahkwa remains a powerful symbol of Myaamia people and can still be found on the tribal seal of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

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fox_stomp 2018 full motion2018 Winter Gathering. Photo by Jonathan Fox.

Soon, Myaamiaki ‘Miami people’ and their friends will gather again for the Miami Nation Winter Gathering. A particular highlight is the large (and annually growing) stomp dance on Saturday night.

Although historically Myaamia people did not regard the stomp dance as sacred or original with them, it certainly has a long history in the community. Miamis learned the leading dance from the Shawnees in the distant past and among other names, call it Šaawanokaanki “the Shawnee Dance.”[1] Some forms have changed—for example, the sources tell us that Myaamia men once used water drums in leading dances, whereas in the current Myaamia context, those dances typically called “stomp” do not feature these portable instruments. And today there are even more diverse tribes nearby—Creeks, Cherokees, and Yuchis intermingle with the old kin communities of Ottawas, Shawnees, Delawares, Potawatomis, and Wyandots. But several historical observations also indicate the long-standing tradition of Myaamia people coming together at night, with friends and family, to circle the fire in the Shawnee Dance.

In 1796, a group of travelers heard a dance beginning near midnight on Bois Blanc Island downstream from Detroit and paddled across the river to witness it. The Irish writer probably describes a mixture of Shawnees, Wyandots, Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Miamis on the island.

The men assembled from different parts of the island, to the number of fifty or sixty, to amuse themselves in their turn. They first walked round the fire in a large circle, closely, one after another, marking time with short steps to the music; the best dancer was put at their head, and gave the step; he was also the principal singer in the circle. After having made one round, the step was altered to a wider one, and they began to stamp with great vehemence upon the ground; and every third or fourth round, making little leaps off the ground with both feet, they turned their faces to the fire and bowed their heads, at the same time going on sideways. At last, having made a dozen or two rounds, towards the end of which each one of them had begun to stamp on the ground with inconceivable fury, but more particularly the principal dancer, they all gave a loud shout at once, and the dance ended.

In another two or three minutes another dance was begun, which ended as soon, and nearly in the same way as the other. There was but little difference in the figures of any of them, and the only material difference in the songs was, that in some of them the dancers, instead of singing the whole of the air, came in simply with responses to the airs sung by the old men. They beckoned to us to join them in their dance, which we immediately did, as it was likely to please them, and we remained on the island with them till two or three o’clock in the morning. There is something inconceivably terrible in the sight of a number of Indians dancing thus round a fire in the depths of thick woods, and the loud shrieks at the end of every dance adds greatly to the horror which their first appearance inspires.

Scarcely a night passed over but what there were dances, similar to those I have described, on the island.[2]

By the 1820s, most Miami adults preferred the Shawnee Dance—what we frequently call stomp dance today—as their favored social soiree.[3] When Miamis and Potawatomis came together with American traders and U.S. treaty commissioners in 1826, they spent their evenings socializing and, of course, dancing. This gathering resulted in treaties between the Miami Nation and United States (and a parallel treaty between the Potawatomis and United States), usually called the Treaty of the Mississinewa. Many years later, one of the secretaries of the U.S. treaty commissioners recalled that time, near what became the town of Peru, Indiana:

We were treated to several native dances, one being on a park carefully cleared east of the Wabash, around which a circular path for dancing was prepared with soft leaves for the moccasins. It being night, the limbs of the trees around were well lighted with candles furnished by our commissioners. In a leading dance a prominent brave brightly painted (as most of the dancers were) whirled into the path, keeping with the music with a rough drum, beating time as he passed around the circle, instantly followed singly behind him by the bright girls, making him thus their favorite. And soon after, as other braves joined the dance, space was left for their sweethearts that chose them as partners to follow them in the dance.[4]

The treaties in the early nineteenth century resulted from, and in turn created, a tumultuous period in Myaamia history. Much like their stomp dancing in the wake of American conquest, it appears that despite the gravity of their daytime negotiations, Myaamia people spent their evenings stomping. In this letter from 1832, held at the Forks of the Wabash council house near Huntington, Indiana, an observer described what he saw:

I have witnessed several of their dances, but can give but a faint description on paper of an exercise which is rendered interesting alone by the peculiar appearance of those who compose the group. One or more fires are kindled at night, and the Indians, dressed in the most gaudy manner, with neatly worked leggings and moccasins, red and blue coats, blankets and fringed hunting shirts, with heavy appendages of bells and silver ornaments, commence a march or dance around the fires, and although the train may be quite small at first they gradually fall in, and from one to two hundred are frequently engaged in one circle. The [women] and men join promiscuously in the dance, and appear to enjoy it with as much zest as do our white gentlefolks at their assembly balls and cotillion parties. Their music consists of a drum composed of a common keg with a skin streached [sic] over one end, and a regular beat is kept up by some of the elder Indians. In addition thereto many of the Indians are constantly engaged in the repetition of a dull monotonous tune or sound, which is occasionally enlivened by a general shout or whoop. They appear to have a strong predeliction [sic] for fine dress and fine horses, and some of them are perfectly loaded with heavy feathers or plumes and silver ornaments. The females have a peculiarly modest appearance, and are dressed in fine scarlet and silks, with many very ingenious and beautiful specimens of ornamental needle work and beads.[5]

Clearly, Myaamia families have long enjoyed evening leading dances with their neighbors, and the tradition continues in this year’s winter gathering in Miami, Oklahoma.

stomp post map.jpg

[1] Charles C. Trowbridge and W. Vernon Kinietz, Meearmeear Traditions (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938), 59.

[2] Isaac Weld, Travels Through the States of North America and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada 3rd edition (London: 1800) vol. 2: 290-92.

[3] Trowbridge, Meearmeear Traditions, 59.

[4] James M. Ray, in Indianapolis News, June 7, 1878.

[5] A.F. Morrison, in Indiana Democrat, Indianapolis, September 29, 1832. These negotiations did not result in a signed treaty that year, but foreshadowed the Forks of the Wabash Treaty of 1834.

Histories of Indigenous Slavery:
A Roundtable Hosted by the Myaamia Center at Miami University
by Cameron Shriver

Myaamia people and their younger siblings, the Peewaalia ‘Peoria,’ have featured in historians’ research about Indian slavery in the colonial period, ca. 1500-1800. However, our tribal community and researchers have not been deeply involved, until recently, in discussions or research related to Indian slavery.

On April 13, 2018, the Myaamia Center hosted a roundtable discussion with the goal of increasing Myaamia engagement with this important topic. Invited participants were Dr. Margaret Newell, professor of history at Ohio State; Dr. Andrew Offenburger, professor of history at Miami University; Dr. Cameron Shriver, postdoctoral fellow at the Myaamia Center at Miami University; and George Ironstrack, Assistant Director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University.

Dr. Newell discussed her recent book about Indian slaves living in New England. Algonquians there–such as Pequots–became important laborers in Puritan New England households, and colonist leaders quickly codified laws allowing enslavement of Indians during wars.

Dr. Offenburger explored the question of why historians seem eager to categorize servitude, unfreedom, or captive-taking practices as “slavery.” In his own research on Yaquis and the Mexican state of Sonora, Offenburger talked about a theme Myaamiaki will know well: the dispossession of Native (in this case, Yaqui) land. But U.S. corporations and entrepreneurs also appropriated Yaqui labor in their agricultural plantations, growing crops through irrigation agriculture in Sonora, and through henequen plantation systems with Yaqui labor in Yucatan. Offenburger notes that Yaquis experienced forced labor, although other features we commonly associate with slavery, including the sale of bodies, did not occur in this time and place.

To be clear, none of the participants equated this kind of slavery with the common image in our popular imaginations. Most Americans believe that slavery was a race-based and hereditary system particular to Southern plantations and synonymous with African-American chattel slaves. This was only one kind of slavery; historians view “slavery” as part of a broad spectrum of freedom and unfreedom. In our popular history, we often think of past Native American societies as egalitarian and lacking the kind of coercive power and class distinctions common in other regions of the world, but a closer examination of the Myaamia past pulls this stereotype apart. Looking more closely at the evidence of the lives of unfree people within Myaamia society helps us better understand the complexity of our ancestors’ experiences and the lives of those forced to live within Myaamia communities.  

Indian slavery forces us to consider the disadvantaged and deprived in Native America, while recognizing new shades of difference in the broader story of slavery, which too often is painted in black and white.

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