The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma has received a prestigious national award recognizing the cultural heritage and language program that has led to the first generation in 100 years learning to speak the Myaamia language.
The program — myaamiaki eemamwiciki, which means the Miami Awakening — has been honored as a 2023 Honoring Nations All-Star.
The selection was made by the Harvard Kennedy School Project on Indigenous Governance and Development and the Honoring Nations Board of Governors. The board selected nine All-Stars from a competitive pool of semifinalists, said Megan Minoka Hill, senior director of the Project on Indigenous Governance and Development and director of the Honoring Nations program.
“Your work and leadership to strengthen tribal sovereignty and identity through the delivery of a wide range of educational resources aimed at restoring the Myaamia language and culture to every household is exceptional and holds many lessons for tribal nations across Indian Country,” she said in the award announcement sent to Chief Douglas Lankford and Julie Olds, the Tribe’s cultural resources officer.
Chief Lankford said, “I join our tribal leaders and our entire Myaamia community in expressing our respect and sincere gratitude to our Cultural Resources Office, the Myaamia Center, and our eemamwiciki cultural education team, whose work and deep personal commitments have made such an honor possible for us. Your work honors our community today and prepares the path forward for generations to come.”
Olds added, "eemamwiciki — our awakening — began over 25 years ago with the commitment to reclaim and restore our heritage language to our community. Today, eemamwiciki comprises all aspects of language and cultural revitalization, and our cultural education team is the engine that creates and delivers programs designed to strengthen us as a Nation and individually as Myaamia citizens."
The Tribe received an Honoring Nations Award, with the distinction of honors, in 2018 that recognized the revitilization program.
The Myaamia Center connection
The Myaamia Center — the Tribe’s research and educational development arm based at Miami University — has been instrumental in supporting this cultural and language revitalization for more than 20 years.
A significant step came in 2001 with the creation of the Myaamia Project (predecessor to the Myaamia Center) to conduct research supporting tribal initiatives to preserve language and culture and expose students to efforts in those areas.
The center works closely with the Tribe’s Cultural Resource Office in Oklahoma. The office focuses on community programming and providing tribal support, while the center’s four pillars target educational development, assessment, research, and collaboration. Olds has called the Myaamia Center’s work “the fuel to the fire” of the Tribe’s community revitalization effort.
Myaamia Center Executive Director Daryl Baldwin said, “The Myaamia Center was always intended to serve the Miami Tribe and share with its partner communities — including Miami University — as an intellectual source for our indigenous knowledge system that is expressed through our language and culture. Our collective work ensures the survival of our future as a tribal nation and lays the foundation for healing from the losses previous generations experienced."
115 Myaamia students have graduated from Miami
The program, which operates out of the Tribe’s government seat in Miami, Oklahoma, is designed to deliver free educational projects, publications, and events to restore the Myaamia language and culture to the community of tribal citizens whose ancestors were forcibly removed from the traditional homelands of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
The program serves all 7,000 citizens in the tribal community by delivering a wide range of educational projects and publications designed to restore the Myaamia language and culture to every tribal household, free of charge.
It hosts seasonal gatherings to provide a place for the community to engage and share through language use and cultural activity. Several cultural activities and art forms are being revitalized that include playing traditional games and creating ribbonwork.
Since 2005, the Tribe has offered youth programs for children ages 6-16. In 2003, the Myaamia Heritage courses began at Miami University as a component of the Myaamia Heritage Program.
The program, which started in 1991, is a four-year undergraduate college experience for tribal youth enrolled as Oxford campus students. It provides a tuition waiver and additional coursework relative to their heritage.
To date, 115 Myaamia students have earned undergraduate or graduate degrees from Miami. Seven graduated this month.
Kara Strass, director of Miami Tribe Relations at the Myaamia Center, said, “The Myaamia Heritage Program is a unique opportunity for Myaamia students to engage with their heritage while receiving a college degree. Many of our graduates are participants or leaders in the eemamwiciki efforts, helping to propel the ongoing revitalization efforts.”
Cultural Education Director Joshua Sutterfield ’05 MA ’10, who works from the Tribe’s cultural resources office in Oklahoma, prepared the award application and said its focus included the Tribe’s “responses to the challenges, including those specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve faced since 2018 that directly contribute to the reclamation of Myaamia culture leading to our ability to self-identify and self-govern.”
Baldwin said, “Our ancestors experienced so much loss in the last few generations and somehow managed to keep the nation alive until a time when we could pick up the strands they left for us and begin weaving a new future.”
He added, “I am honored to be alive to witness our ‘awakening’ and to observe the healing it brings to all who support this endeavor.”