The Miami Nation was presented before the “Fort Wayne Quest Club” by William R. Clark on October 29, 1993: Quotes from historians include: “The Miamis were a warrior tribe and during their migrations had frequent conflicts with their allies. However, they actually settled major quarrels in long peaceful councils-at which they excelled.” And “Their self-assurance and dominant position among their neighbors can be traced in part to their stable and provident village life, based more on agriculture than on hunting.”
On the whole, it is unlikely that there existed major differences in the behavior, temperament and beliefs of the Miami and other Eastern Woodland tribes. The Miamis however, were special, not only to Fort Wayne but as a presence in the history of our country, and legitimately may be assigned an importance disproportionate to their smaller number. The basis for their importance resulted from a combination of time, circumstance and geography. One circumstance included the fact of the depletion of the fur bearing animals to the east. The most significant geographical factor was the presence of the portage between the headwaters of the Maumee which was formed by the St. Joseph and St. Mary’s rivers (three rivers) and the headwaters of the Little Wabash River, the most direct link between the St. Lawrence and Mississippi River. The Miamis thus found themselves in a strategically located pathway for all east-west and north-south traffic. Their strategically located position also happened to be located in some of the most fertile and productive land in the country. It’s no wonder that during the eighteenth century it was a huge bone of contention between two European Imperial powers and the new American Republic and its Manifest Destiny. Added to this backdrop was the fact that there existed within the Miami Nation powerful war chiefs capable of responding to the call for leadership.
In considering the Miami Nation it is useful to divide into segments the nearly one hundred and fifty-year time period starting with the early post-contact years around 1700 to the removal of the tribe to Kansas and then later Oklahoma after the 1840s. American history texts depict this period by focusing upon the growth of America while delegating to Native Americans the role of supporting actors in this tragic drama.
Reorienting one’s perspective to that of the Miamis, this was a period of cataclysmic change in what had formerly been a free and democratic culture. It was a sad time during which the Miamis were hoodwinked by land-speculators, lawyers and politicians that caused them to pass from a position of dominance into moral decline and it ultimately cost them their cultural identity. Three features of early Miami culture were common to all Native Americans. They were remarkably adapted to their environment. Their entire culture, their food, clothing, dwellings, and beliefs were defined by the environment. They were now confronting a society of Europeans in which the reverse was the case-the white-man’s culture dominated the environment. Secondly, and related to the first, was the Native American concept of land ownership. They believed the land was a gift from the Great Spirit and could not be owned. The white man’s land in America was gifted to him by European Monarchs who were never legally entitled to it. Like the rain and sun, one could use it, but no one could own it. That concept of land-ownership created a gulf of misunderstanding that transcended all language barriers. Finally was the fact that the Miamis were a warrior nation. That feature of Native culture dictated the timing for the male’s entry into manhood, eligibility for marriage and it defined the division of labor between the sexes. To be continued.
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