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MIAMI NATION

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The Miami Nation was presented to the Fort Wayne Quest Club, October 29, 1993 by William R. Clark Junior: Between the years of 1822 and 1839, Indian agent Samuel Milroy reported the Miami population in Indiana had been reduced to approximately 700 by the deaths of 450 men and 39 women because of alcohol, alcoholism and stabbing deaths that occurred during drunken brawls.

Despite this bleak scenario, the Miamis were not without diligent leadership during this period. Jean Baptist Richardville became principle chief upon the death of his Uncle Pecan in 1814, two years prior to Indiana becoming a State. He unquestionably expanded his own land holdings and position as a trader in his dealings with the U.S. government.

At the time of his death in 1841 Chief Richardville was the wealthiest Indian in Indiana and the Country.  He was however, extremely shrewd and persistent in his advocacy for the Miami Tribe as a whole and he was able to negotiate a delay in the removal and relocation of his people far beyond that of other tribes; he eventually secured permanent residency in Indiana for half the tribe. That included his son-in-law, his successor Francis Lafontaine, Francis Godfrey’s family at Peru, Chief Meshingomesia’s band along the Mississinewa River and Francis Slocum’s family.

Over generations the survivors blended into one society, as was also true of the approximately 300 Miami’s relocated to Kansas in 1846 and on to Oklahoma 20 years later. The relocated Miami’s formed a society, a town, county seat and kept the Miami name.

Although the Miami culture is gone and they no longer are identifiable, the Miami Tribe persists. It exists as an incorporated legal entity composed of ever increasing numbers of descendants of Miami Indians and over the years has perpetuated the Miami story; it continues attempts through the court system to reestablish federal government recognition of its tribal status.

The 300-year Indian-White man interactive experience in this country continues to attract our attention in books, movies and stories of every kind. Striking cultural differences existed; to be sure. The Native American time clock of development had a 10,000-year-late start. But white perception of Native American backwardness is not to be equated with any lack of intelligence. As referred to earlier, the Native American pattern of humanness mirrored that of their counterparts who had come from across the Atlantic. But there does appear to have existed subtle but important differences in the way in which the two perceived the world and their environment.

Historian Robert Utley describes a Pueblo kachina doll fastened back to back with a person from an alien world, the two are condemned to an eternity of physical union in which neither can see the other as emblematic of Indian-White man contact in America; these were two people of different thought worlds, thrust into physical contact, but continuously talking past each other in mutual misunderstanding and incomprehension.

The history of our locale would indicate that the Miami’s acquitted themselves about as well as, and perhaps in some instances better than, other Native Americans in this period of interaction. What heritage did the Miami Nation and their culture leave Indiana? Names such as Kekionga Middle School, Tecumwah Recreation Center and Miami County to name a few and just as the East Coast Indians brought turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkins to the first Thanksgiving Day table, perhaps the special Miami white corn created a taste for the roasting ears the soldiers of the American Revolution wrote about. Had Little Turtle been less successful, perhaps Fort Wayne would be called Fort Harmar or Fort Sinclair; because Anthony Wayne would never have had any cause to come here. To be continued.

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