Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma enjoy a trusted and respectful relationship that has developed over almost 40 years, and exists on many levels, institutional and official, academic, and interpersonal. Officially, the Vice President for Student Affairs serves as the liaison with the Miami Tribe and designates a Student Affairs staff member to coordinate the varied activities. The position of Coordinator of Miami Tribe Relations was created in April 1994 from a recommendation of The Committee on Relationships Between Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma (PDF). The Tribe also designates a liaison to assist with visits to Oklahoma and coordinating other details when requested.
Miami University proudly carries the name of the Miami Nation whose traditional homelands included western Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of southern Wisconsin and Michigan. It is a privilege to provide one path by which the Miami people rekindle their connection with the lands of their forefathers. This partnering of an American university and an American Indian tribe is very unique and often serves as a model for others to follow.
Leaders Play A Critical Role
The leaders of both entities played a large part in encouraging and sustaining the growth of this relationship. The first connection was made in 1972 when Miami Tribe Chief Forest Olds (pictured on left) visited Miami University. Miami President Phillip Shriver (pictured on right) was extremely influential in encouraging and supporting the development of a lasting relationship with the Miami Tribe.
Representatives from Miami’s divisions of Alumni and Development and Student Affairs became the main lines of communication and eventually the responsible staff designated to maintain relations with the Tribe.
Dr. Shriver’s (pictured on right) academic specialty of Ohio History and his personal interest provided a natural connection and easy transition when Floyd Leonard (pictured on left) was elected Chief in 1974 after the death of Forest Olds. A deep friendship, respect and admiration developed between these two men until Chief Leonard’s death in 2008.
Leaders on both sides have changed through the years, but the forward momentum has never faltered. Many individuals have been instrumental along the way, teaching the value of the relationship, identifying needs that each side can address, and recruiting the most appropriate individuals to help meet the needs that exist and arise.
Much of the early connection (1972-1989) centered around activities associated with the use of a Native American mascot. Miami University solicited the Tribe’s assistance several times to attempt to be more authentic and credible with images and actions associated with athletic teams and events. By 1996, the Miami Tribe could no longer support the use of a native mascot and suggested, by resolution, that Miami University discontinue its use. Miami University deferred to their request and moved forward to make the necessary changes.
Education Becomes the Theme
The decade of the 90’s began a new type of relationship between Miami University and the Miami Tribe, a greater mutually beneficial connection that was based on a new method of honoring the Miami Tribe—through education. Miami University would provide the Miami Tribe community an opportunity for higher education. The Miami Tribe would provide Miami University a unique diversity initiative, the opportunity to learn first-hand about a contemporary American Indian tribe, including its history, language and culture, and present-day conditions and issues.
The Myaamia Project
In 2001, The Myaamia Project was created at Miami University.
Affiliated directly with the Cultural Resource Office of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, this project is devoted to language and cultural research and educational development for the tribal community. New educational materials are developed and several new publications have resulted. The expansion of the Myaamia Project staff, all members of the Miami Tribe, has allowed more opportunities for faculty to include projects connected to the Miami Tribe in their academic courses. These service-learning initiatives are furthering the goals of Miami University to become an Engaged University.
Memorandum of Understanding
In March 2006, Chief Floyd Leonard and President James Garland signed a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF) that officially agreed to expand the already strong and trusting relationship, to support educational and developmental needs, and to commit to further exchange and projects of mutual interest. The Memorandum acknowledged the value of what had been happening less formally for several years.
New leaders from both sides have continued the commitment to work together for future mutual benefit. In September, 2008, Chief Tom Gamble and President David Hodge signed a Memorandum of Agreement (PDF) to continue the ongoing partnering initiatives that further the research mission and the educational activities of the Myaamia Project.
Partners in Learning
The phrase partners in learning effectively describes the relationship between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University. The feather image was developed to represent the kinds of activities and outcomes that result from this unique connection. The Eagle feather represents the Nation, the Red Tail Hawk feather represents the University. The red string that ties the two feathers together is symbolic of the trust and respect that is the foundation of this unique partnership.
Trips to Oklahoma allow visitors from Miami University to enjoy cultural events, see businesses and programs of the Miami Tribe, and enjoy the hospitality of the Tribal people who live nearby. Bringing Tribal officials and guests to campus to make presentations, facilitate class discussions, and attend events gives a contemporary context to today’s American Indian.
Neepwaantiinki is the word in the Myaamia language that most closely translates the phrase partners in learning. It embodies the reciprocal nature of this rich relationship—
We learn from each other.