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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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

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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by John Bickers and George Ironstrack

This post is the first in a new series of articles touching on Myaamia kinship and genealogy. It is the hope of the authors that Myaamia community members will be interested to learn more about how our Myaamia families are interrelated. Additionally, we hope that community members will request future posts covering the genealogy of different branches of our big Myaamia family.

In the winter of 1790-91, a British man by the name of Henry Hay came to stay at Kiihkayonki (Ft. Wayne). He spent the winter visiting with British and French traders and with nearly all the key Myaamia leaders of the era: Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle), Le Gris, Moohswa, Pinšiwa (J.B. Richardville), and Tahkamwa (Marie Louisa Richardville). Hay kept a very detailed journal, and this record provides rare tidbits of information about Tahkamwa, a very influential akimaahkwia (female civil chief).[1]

In their writings, Euro-American men rarely focused their attention on Myaamia women. Every village had female civil leaders, female war leaders, and women’s councils, but they rarely interacted with Euro-American men, except for those who married into the community. In Myaamia villages, face-to-face diplomacy was the responsibility of male leaders. However, Tahkamwa provides us with a rare example of an akimaahkwia who actively participated in her village’s public council sessions and who interacted with Euro-American men in a political environment. Her unique role was partly a result of her personal stature, knowledge, experience, and influence within her community. Her role was also partly the result of the absence of her brother Pakaana, the acknowledged akima (male civil leader) of Kiihkayonki. At the time of Hay’s visit, Pakaana was in the south on the Mihšisiipi (Mississippi River) negotiating with the Iihpaawala (Spanish) and hunting.[2]

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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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The Good Path: Part II

August 27, 2012

aapooši peehkihkanaweeyankwi
Again we Travel a Good Path – Part II (1752-1780)

In our last post we examined the history of the Myaamia village of Pinkwaawilenionki, also known as Pickawillany, and the brief period of instability that centered on the creation and destruction of this Myaamia village on the Great Miami River (1747-1752).[1]  Following the collapse of this village, Myaamia communities returned to the relative stability that developed after the conclusion of the Beaver Wars.  Once again, villages could govern themselves by utilizing Myaamia knowledge, values, and beliefs to inform the multiple compromises that maintained good relations inside a village as well as with their neighbors both near and far.  Once again, no group – European or indigenous – had the power to force their beliefs or ways onto Myaamia people.[2]  No group had the power to force Myaamia people to leave their villages, and for the most part, Myaamia people could travel unimpeded throughout Myaamionki (the place of the Myaamia, our homelands).  However, just as before the Beaver Wars, travelers still had to respect their neighbors’ homes and resources, and Myaamia people still had to fear attacks from enemy groups as well as the outbreaks of disease epidemics, like measles and small pox.

In this period, Myaamia people were again able to live and change according to their own habits, practices, and beliefs.  In “Again We Travel a Good Path – Part I” we looked at how Myaamia people established relations with the French through intermarriage and exchange or trade.  In Part II we will look with more depth at the role of Myaamia mitemhsaki (women) in maintaining a healthy village and in guiding the changes villages had to continually make in order to thrive.

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