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Winter Gathering caps 50th anniversary commemoration of the two Miamis

large event hall with a flurry of people moving in a circle as others look on
Miami University
Singers and shakers participate in the Winter Gathering Stomp Dance in 2017.

A group of Miami University students, staff and faculty are in Miami, Okla. — headquarters of the Miami Tribe — this weekend to cap off a year-long commemoration of the two Miamis' partnership, referred to as neepwaantiinki, the Myaamia word meaning "learning from each other."

*Editor's Note: Myaamia is pronounced me-AHM-ee-uh. The town of Miami in Oklahoma is pronounced my-AM-uh.

The Miami Tribe hosts its annual Winter Gathering each January.

"For a community like ours that lives in diaspora — we have about 7,000 tribal citizens who live across the entire United States — we need these opportunities to get together as a community in order to maintain and push forward our cultural identity," explains Kara Strass, director of tribe relations with the Myaamia Center at Miami University.

Key events include gourd dancing, a stomp dance and storytelling.

"One of the things that's really important about the Winter Gathering is that we have some Myaamia stories that can only be told in the wintertime," Strass says. "One of the main activities that we do every Winter Gathering is storytelling so that we can tell those stories and experience them together as a community."

Miami University and the Myaamia Center have been coordinating an annual trip for some 20 years. Strass says this year's group is larger than most. The number of Myaamia Heritage Program students has been increasing, with many of them wanting to make the trip.

"We do have a couple of other students who are working on projects connected to the Myaamia Center who will also be able to go, and this is a great opportunity for them to get to engage with the tribe and really be able to be immersed in a new cultural experience."

Over two days, the university contingent will meet with Myaamia Chief Doug Lankford; participate in traditional games and makerspace activities; learn about the tribe/university partnership; get an introduction to storytelling and stomp dancing; and then attend those and other cultural events.

"It provides them with a unique opportunity to engage with their larger Myaamia community," Strass explains. "For some of them this will be actually their first trip to Miami, Oklahoma, the headquarters of the tribe, because they come from other parts of the country where they've not been able to visit there before."

Strass says participants usually come back feeling a deeper connection and view the relationship between the two Miamis in a new way.

"They often tell us ... that they thought that they understood this relationship and the work of the tribe until they were actually immersed in it, which is why we continue to take people year after year — because we recognize just how important it is for people to really feel like they're a part of the relationship."

A brief history of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma

The Myaamia homelands encompass portions of the Great Lakes region — Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, lower Michigan and lower Wisconsin. Myaamia means "the downstream people" and their main villages were centered through the Wabash River valley, with hunting grounds across what is now Southwest Ohio and Southeast Indiana.

Through a series of treaties beginning with the Greenville Treaty of 1795, the Myaamia began slowly losing their homelands and were ultimately forcibly removed to Kansas in the 1840s.

"In 1846, half of the six hundred or so Myaamia — who had survived the years of war, disease and settlement perpetrated by the newcomers — were forcibly removed from our homelands and settled west of the Mississippi on lands in Indian Territory (current day Kansas)," the tribe writes, adding "in October of 1846 our ancestors, numbering approximately 500 souls, were herded at gunpoint and forced onto canal boats to begin the long journey down the Erie Canal system from eastern Indiana to the Ohio River."

From Kansas, the tribe members were forced to move once again to modern day Oklahoma where they remained.

The U.S. government formally recognized the nation in 1939 as the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma first met in 1972 when Chief Forest Olds, having heard about a university in Ohio that shared a name with his tribal nation, showed up on campus unexpectedly during a visit to Cincinnati. What came of that surprise encounter is a nearly 50-year-long partnership between the two Miamis.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.