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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 11 also marked the day 175 years ago when Myaamia tribal citizens were forcibly removed from their homelands near the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Myaamia tribal leaders, citizens and Miami University officials and students gathered to commemorate that fateful day when it seemed everything Myaamia was lost. Their collective mourning, however, was lightened by recognition of the remarkable partnership between the tribe and university that helped restore the lost Myaamia language and culture, offering healing and reclamation of pride in being Myaamia.

Recipients of the Miami Heritage Award Program hung 330 strips of cloth on trees throughout campus, one for every tribal citizen who was removed from their homelands in 1846, 16 years after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Today, 39 Myaamia students attend the university with a fee waiver as part of the Heritage Award.

Myaamia Chief Douglas Lankford addressed a crowd of about 200 people who gathered at the university’s art museum for the occasion. His voice broke with emotion as he described the ancestors’ love for their homeland. Forced at gunpoint onto longboats to leave the only home they had ever known, they dropped to their knees, grabbing handfuls of earth.

“Classes were likely in session here at the university when the boats taking our ancestors to Kansas passed nearby,” Lankford said.

Myaamia students, winners of the Miami University Heritage Award program, hang 330 strips of cloth, one for each tribal removed from their lands in 1846, in trees on the Miami University campus on Oct. 11, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

On that day so long ago, Myaamia citizens were taken first to Kansas then later to Oklahoma, the tribe’s current home.

So much has happened since. Today, Myaammia leaders of the reinvigorated tribe commemorated their removal and celebrated a remarkable new relationship, an initiative with Miami University that has helped reclaim their language, culture and pride.

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The partnership between the tribe and university helped create the Myaamia Center located on the Miami campus. Center founder Daryl Baldwin of the Myaamia tribe and others revitalized a language that was declared dead in the 1960s. Since the center’s beginnings in 2001, the program has set the bar for Indigenous language and cultural revitalization, winning support from the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation and others.

Lankford noted that the partnership marks a new day for the tribe.

“Today we thrive again as a sovereign nation,” he said. “This was made possible by the reclamation of our language and culture. This healing journey has been supported by allies and friends.”

Overcome again with emotion, Lankford added, “I express the deepest gratitude of my people to you on this day. We now walk together on a good path.”

Myaamia Chief Douglas Lankford and Myaamia Center executive Darryl Baldwin stand in from of the sculpture, "A tribe called Miami," created by tribal member Eugene Brown, during a ceremony Oct. 11, 2021, commemorating the tribe's removal from ancestral lands 175 years ago in 1846. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

At the culmination of the ceremony, Madelyn Jett, Miami student body president, read the university’s land acknowledgement, underscoring the school’s commitment to working as partners with the tribe.

“It is impossible to separate the history of Miami University from the trauma Myaamia people endured,” she said. “It is essential that students recognize our university exists in part due to the forced removal of Indigenous people from this land and the transfer of these lands by treaty to the American government.”

Jett encouraged students and staff to read the acknowledgement at all university events.

“It is our responsibility as learners,” she said, “to educate ourselves about this history and show respect and reverence for this land.” 

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