Myaamia Ribbonwork

Cover of ribbonwork publication including title, author, and example of ribbonwork fabric

This publication emerged from ongoing Myaamia community efforts in language and cultural revitalization. When a culture reawakens, renewal can come in many forms. As Myaamia ribbonwork artist Scott Shoemaker points out, "the art of ribbonwork and its reclamation is akin to the revitalization of our language; it is a language in and of itself and likewise requires community support and participation."

A Brief History of Myaamia Ribbonwork

Ribbonwork is a craft that emerged in the late 1700s when Myaamia people traded with Americans for silk ribbon. Using the silk, Miami women were able to create intricate geometric patterns.

Although the materials and methods of making the patterns were new, elements of the patterns pre-dated ribbonwork and can be found on older painted hides, tattoos, quillwork, and weaving, among other examples. Myaamia people used the ribbonwork to adorn clothing for special occasions for both men and women, especially leggings, skirts and moccasins.

Traditionally, ribbonwork would have been taught to one another by family members. While this is still considered the best way to learn a skill, it is not realistic for a community as geographically dispersed as the Myaamia.

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Ribbonwork Today

Teaching Ribbonwork 

We continue to teach ribbonwork skills through hands-on workshops, this publication, and our online video resources at tribal events and at Miami University. We focus on the history, concepts, and techniques of ribbonwork so participants can learn as they create their own ribbonwork.

Create ribbonwork using our video instructions:

Myaamia ribbonwork also plays a role in expressing the close connection between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University. It exists in the University's Wiikiaami Room and inspires the Myaamia Heritage Logo.

A Logo, A Relationship

ribbonwork

The Myaamia Heritage Logo references the traditional Miami Tribe art form of ribbonwork and symbolizes the unique relationship between the University and Tribe.

The Myaamia Heritage Logo does not replace any current symbols used by Miami University or the Miami Tribe.

Project Background

Red diamond ribbonwork pattern on black cloth

The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma recognizes its responsibility to help its citizens revitalize important skills that uniquely define the Miami as a tribal people. To address this, the Myaamia Center applied for and received a 2014-2016 Art Works grant #14-5500-7032 from the National Endowment for the Arts supporting "myaamia peepankišaapiikahkia eehkwaatamenki – Myaamia Ribbonwork Project."

As part of an ongoing long-term effort to revitalize Myaamia language and culture, this project focused on teaching the skills and sharing knowledge necessary for tribal members to revitalize the art of ribbonwork in the adult population of the community.

Two-Phase Approach

With the two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, we approached the project in two phases.

First, we identified and documented examples of ribbonwork in museum and personal collections. Using these examples, we produced our publication examining the history of Miami ribbonwork and techniques for making your own. We paired these with our video resources to create a thorough set of instructions.

In the second phase, we held community workshops with master ribbonwork artist Scott Shoemaker in Miami, Oklahoma and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Examples from the Myaamia Community

As center staff began work on this important aspect of cultural revitalization, we included historical examples of ribbonwork from as many Miami families as possible. Much of the Miami ribbonwork in U.S. museum collections has already been documented, but it is possible some examples still exist in private collections. Even a small scrap of ribbonwork may yield useful information about patterns, colors and construction for this project.

We know it is more likely that some Miami families have photographs of ancestors wearing regalia trimmed in ribbonwork. This was especially common during the pageant era. Adding copies of these images to our growing ribbonwork database will help to improve the project and our understanding of Myaamia ribbonwork aesthetic. If you have objects or images relating to ribbonwork, please contact our Center. They could be very valuable to this project.

If members of the Myaamia community remember their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents talking about ribbonwork or diamond patterns, we would love to hear about that as well. With your help, we can work to continue to reawaken this part of our culture.

Participants

  • Andrew J. Strack, Coordinator, Technology & Publications, Myaamia Center
  • Karen Baldwin
  • Dr. Alysia Fischer, Miami University
  • George Ironstrack, Assistant Director, Myaamia Center
  • Scott Shoemaker, Tribal Artisan

Special Thanks

This project benefited greatly from the cooperation of several institutions (all listed within the publication) that tribal members visited over the last several years.

We extend a special thanks for the contributions these institutions provided.