Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today
A center dedicated to preserving the history, languages and culture of the Myaamia people has received a $2 million grant from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, whose ancestors were forced off the lands in Ohio 175 years ago.
The funds will be used at the Myaamia Center on the grounds of Miami University of Ohio, which was a fledgling university when the Myaamia people were driven from the area. The tribe is now scattered across several states, including Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma and Ohio.
—Myaamia Tribe commemorates forced removal 175 years ago
Daryl Baldwin, the founder of the Myaamia Center and its executive director, said the donation comes after a long history between the center and the university.
“The relationship between Miami University and Myaamia Center of Ohio is celebrating 50 years in 2022, so this is not new,” said Baldwin, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.
“Development has been happening for quite a long time,” he said. “Beyond the center, the tribe has directed a research and educational development unit at Miami University. That was set up to respond to a wide range of capacity-building efforts to support the Miami tribe’s revitalization … The center also provides a professional platform for tribal scholars to be able to do the work that needs to be done.”
The center also received a recent $510,000 donation from the Mellon Foundation.
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Created in 2001 and originally known as the Myaamia Project, the center is working to revitalize the culture and language of the tribe, drawing from the Myaamia word, neepwaantiinki, or “learning from each other.”
Baldwin said the tribe recognized early in the 1990s when leaders tried to plunge into language revitalization that a tremendous amount of work needed to be done to sustain the effort for future generations.
“The hyper focus on language teaching and a base support for educational development and research for a wide range of content for a small tribe like ours had to be revitalized as well,” Baldwin said. “At just over 6,000 members, the endowment can support that work long-term.”
The center now operates with 18 staff members and for the first time in more than 100 years is teaching a new generation of Myaamia people their Native language. The center also provides a college education for Miami tribal citizens; so far, 100 have graduated and 39 students are currently enrolled.
“We're very much on track where we want to be in terms of our development, investing in the future generation of tribal scholars who are going to be able to move this work forward,” Baldwin said. “There's long been a divide between academia and tribal communities. Our tribal scholars are hired to respond directly to the tribe first and foremost. So our development isn't just the purpose of academic study, it's for the revitalization efforts of the tribe.”
Part of the arrangement between the tribe and university is that the tribe will provide ongoing financial support for the operations and that Miami University will provide space for the center.
The center now occupies an entire building, with room for the staff and students, and a community center where students earn credit for a series of courses over and above their regular coursework on topics such as language culture, ecological perspectives, sovereignty and self-determination.
Other current research initiatives include ethnobotany, traditional foods and diet, the study of corn and other agricultural genetics for preservation, understanding sustainable environmental practices, Lunar calendar development and maintenance, and environmental and cultural education.
“It allows our young people to come to an institution like this to pursue whatever they're interested in, such as business or arts, but while they're here, they get a chance to entrench themselves in a number of topics relative to their own heritage,” Baldwin said. “A unique situation.”
Baldwin said the building is very much a community center as well as an educational one, and a place of employment.
“We have hired some of our graduate students to engage in computer science, as technology is playing a greater role in how we reach out to this particular community,” he said.
“This is a community that experienced dislocation for two generations back in the mid-1800s that left this community kind of scattered,” he said. “So we're having to figure out how to be a community with contemporary times. And technology is playing a role in that, especially during things like the pandemic.”
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