Myaamia culture, language live on in Huntington

Posted Friday, November 27, 2020.


Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, speaks at a proclamation ceremony honoring the Myaamia people Tuesday afternoon at the Huntington City Building. (Photo courtesy of Doug Peconge/Cultural Resources Extension Office, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.)

HUNTINGTON – Sometime between the 1960s and 1980s, the spoken language of the Myaamia people was nearly lost to history as its last speakers aged and passed away.

That’s according to Kara Strass, director of Miami Tribal Relations for the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Ohio. Strass plays a key role there in ongoing efforts to revive the language and revitalize the Myaamia people’s culture and heritage.

Strass, a Huntington native and member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, said the Huntington area bears historic significance for the language and culture of the Myaamia people, who called this land home long before any settlers arrived.

“Our names are written all over this landscape, and so you don’t have to look very far to see the impacts that Myaamia people have had on this place,” Strass said.

Huntington’s LaFontaine Street is named for Miami Chief LaFontaine, she said, while the Wabash (waapaahšiki siipiiwi) and Salamonie (oonsaalamioni siipiiwi) rivers derive their names directly from the Myaamia language.

Since its founding in 2001, The Myaamia Center at Miami University has combed through written records to document the Myaamia people’s culture and language and pass them to new generations.

“We have songs and dances and art forms that are unique to us as Myaamia people,” Strass said. “ … Today we come together as Myaamia people to practice that culture and to really be a community together here in our homelands as well as in Oklahoma, where our tribe is headquartered today.”

The Myaamia people were split in the 1840s when the United States government forced their removal from Indiana. By treaty, only a small number of clans remained in the state, while most were relocated first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma.

The Myaamia chief’s council house at the Forks of the Wabash – or Wiipicahkionki – was the location of the signing of treaties in 1834 and 1840 that led to most of the tribe’s removal. The Wabash River was and continues to be the heart of Myaamia homelands.

Today, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma has a sizeable population in the Huntington area and the Wabash River Valley. The Myaamia people have helped shape Huntington’s history and continue to make an impact today.

“If I could encourage people to do anything, learn that history, understand it.” Strass said. “But more importantly, understand that we are a contemporary tribal nation who is still here in Huntington and practicing all of our Myaamia culture still today.”

On Tuesday, Huntington Mayor Richard Strick met with members of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, signing a proclamation recognizing the Myaamia people and honoring their contributions. In addition to Strass, attendees included Doug Peconge, community programming manager for the Cultural Resources Extension Office, and Diane Hunter, an officer with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

The proclamation encourages Huntington residents to learn about the Myaamia people’s culture and history in order to recognize their “unique, lasting, and ongoing contributions” to the City of Huntington.

November has been recognized as National American Indian Heritage Month since 1990, when President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution.

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