Miami Tribe Leaders
The elected leaders of the Miami Tribe are the Chief, Second Chief, Secretary/Treasurer, First Councilperson and Second Councilperson. The Miami Tribe constitution determines that Tribal elections occur at the annual meeting in June. All attending Tribal members, eighteen years of age and older, may vote in the elections. The five elected positions serve three-year rotating terms and comprise the Tribe’s Business Committee that oversees the day-to-day services, programs, and business ventures of the Miami Tribe.
The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized sovereign nation as defined by the Department of Interior. The more than 560 federally recognized American Indian nations maintain a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States as determined in Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution which gave Congress the power to regulate commerce with the Indian Tribes, as well as with the states and with foreign nations. So from the beginning of the US government, there has been recognition of the inherent rights of tribes as self-governing entities. That continues to this day and often necessitates that Miami Tribe leaders travel to Washington DC to represent their community directly.
The Chief is the head of the nation and, first and foremost, serves the Miami people. The Chief is chair of the Business Committee, presides over meetings, and as needed, represents the Miami community to all outside constituencies.
Miami University has been fortunate to know personally and work successfully with three Miami Tribe chiefs. The following pages indicate the multiple ways that each of these leaders has impacted and enhanced the relationship with Miami University.
Chief Forest Olds
Forest D. Olds was born March 5, 1911 in rural Miami, Oklahoma where he lived his entire life. He was a great-grandson of Chief David Geboe, and a direct descendant of Tacumwah. He sometimes used a Myaamia name for himself, “Me-tek-yah” or Mihtehkia, which simply means Forest.
He attended a rural Miami school until the eighth grade. He became a lifelong farmer and stockman, at one time maintaining over 900 acres.
Known by his nickname “Pude,” Olds was well known throughout the Miami community. He was the director of the Ottawa County Farm Bureau, the vice-president of the Miami Coop Association, and a board member of the Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative. He was involved as a Supervisor and Director of the Ottawa County Soil and Water Conservation District for over fifteen years. Chief Olds also served as a member of the State Board of Directors of Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity, and was a school board member for more than one school.
After serving as Second Chief under Chief Harley Palmer for fifteen years, Olds was elected Chief in September of 1963, and served as Chief of the Miami Tribe for eleven years, until his death.
As Chief, he worked to strengthen the organization of the Miami Tribe, and worked closely with the Tribe’s cases before the Indian Claims Commission. After the court ruled in the Tribe’s favor, Chief Olds oversaw the distribution of these funds to descendants of Myaamia who were removed from their homeland in Indiana. He was also responsible for laying the groundwork in establishing a relationship between the Miami Tribe and Miami University.
Chief Olds made an unexpected visit to Miami University in August 1972 while on a trip to Cincinnati to attend a Rural Electric national conference. His second trip to Miami University was in June 1974. Chief Olds died shortly after that visit on August 4, 1974.
Chief Floyd Leonard
Floyd E. Leonard was born in Picher, Oklahoma on September 19, 1925. His father was a member of the Miami Tribe. His mother was of the Prairie Band Potawatomi. His life was driven by three interests: education, music, and Native American issues, especially Miami Tribe concerns.
He began a career in education teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in 1950 and retired as assistant superintendent of schools in Joplin, Missouri in 1986. His intense commitment to educating young people fueled his interest in Miami University and deepened the connection that had started with Chief Olds. He made his first trip to campus in 1975. He graciously made himself available on many occasions to educate Miami students, faculty and staff about the history and contemporary operations of the Miami Tribe. Even more important, he encouraged Miami Tribe members to consider Miami University as an option for their college education and he was here to celebrate the first students’ arrival in 1991.
The Partners in Learning relationship evolved so strongly under Chief Leonard’s leadership that in 2001 the Tribe and University together created the Myaamia Project, charged with advancing the Tribe’s language and cultural revitalization efforts through research and education. Chief Leonard cited renewed interest in language and culture among tribal members as his largest accomplishment while in office.
Playing guitar and singing in dance bands provided a way for him to earn his way through college and continue entertaining others throughout his life. Several times Miami University students were in Oklahoma when Chief Leonard’s groups played for elder dances at the Tribal Headquarters.
Chief Leonard’s tribal leadership included Business Committee councilperson from 1952-1963, Second Chief under Chief Forest Olds from 1963-1974, Chief from 1974-1982 (he stepped down for health reasons), and 1989 until his death in 2008.
Over a span of more than three decades, his presence was a powerful, positive force in forming the trusting and respectful relationship that exists between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University.
Chief Thomas Gamble
Thomas E. Gamble was born in 1950 in Welch, Oklahoma and, after his family relocated to the west coast, he graduated from high school in Pomona, California. He is the great-great-grandson of Chief John Roubidoux, the grandson of Ethel Goodboo Gamble, and the son of Virgil Gamble.
Pursuing a love for the environment and an interest in protecting it, he attended Missouri Environmental Trade School in Neosho where he specialized in water and wastewater technology. That training led to employment opportunities in Arkansas and eventually back to Joplin where the close proximity to Tribal headquarters and his employment background and education provided the right combination for his growing involvement with the Miami Tribe.
Chief Gamble began his tribal leadership as a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma Business Development Authority when it was created in 1998. His first elected position came in 2001 when he became Second Chief, serving with Chief Floyd Leonard whose guidance, teaching, and mentoring provided invaluable preparation for the future role of Chief. As prescribed by the bylaws of the Miami Tribe Constitution, when Floyd Leonard died in 2008, Gamble succeeded to the position of Chief and finished out Chief Leonard’s term of office. He was then elected Chief at the annual General Council meeting in June, 2010.
The Miami Nation has seen the success of many new enterprises under the leadership of Chief Gamble. His intent is to continue to involve the Miami Tribe in the development of tourism, industry, and infrastructure in the local Miami, Oklahoma area.
Chief Gamble has made it a personal mission to keep the Miami Nation as involved as possible with all levels of government; including city, county, state, and federal agencies. By continuing to build relationships with these groups, the Miami Nation is able to represent its self-sufficiency as a viable sovereign government.
Chief Gamble’s attachment to Miami University has grown steadily over his years of service with the Miami Nation. Continuing the legacy of Chiefs Olds and Leonard, he is willing to devote significant time and effort to make the long trip to Oxford for invited occasions and campus programs. He continues strong personal and official support of the cultural and language educational efforts of the Myaamia Project at Miami University.