Daryl Baldwin is a leader in Native American language and cultural revitalization.
Daryl Baldwin is a leader in Native American language and cultural revitalization. Photo: Courtesy of Myaamia Center archives

MacArthur "genius grant" awarded to Miami University's Daryl Baldwin

Daryl Baldwin teaching students the Myaamia language

Daryl Baldwin works with students learning the Myaamia language.

By Margo Kissell, university news and communications

Daryl Baldwin, director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University and a leader in Native American language and cultural revitalization, has been named one of the 2016 MacArthur Fellows — recipients of the so-called “genius grants.”

Baldwin, also an adjunct assistant professor in educational leadership, is among 23 people selected this year from a variety of fields by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Selections are made based primarily on “exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances,” the foundation said.

The fellowships are not lifetime achievement awards. The foundation says it looks for individuals “on the precipice of great discovery or a game-changing idea.”

“I feel very humbled others would think so much of our work and efforts to revitalize our language,” said Baldwin, 53, a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. “It is hard to put my reaction into words.”

The fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000 paid in quarterly installments over five years, and no strings attached. Recipients may use the money as they see fit.

Baldwin came to Miami in 2001 to run the Myaamia Center (“Myaamia” is “Miami” in the Miami language), a joint venture between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the university. It was then called the Myaamia Project. “It was just me; I was the only staff,” he said.

Fifteen years later, it’s going strong with a staff of seven.

“It’s a work of passion. It’s also a work of identity for me and for other tribal members. This is about discovery of self,” he said. “This is a wonderful recognition of what the community has been able to do and it’s a direct outcome of the collaboration of the Miami Tribe and Miami University.”

As for how he intends to use the funding, Baldwin said it’s too early to say.

“This is a 20-year effort involving the tribe and university and several full-time staff. I have some consulting to do to generate options before I make a determination,” said Baldwin, who received the phone call he described as “surreal” while walking on campus.

Born in northwest Ohio, Baldwin’s forefathers were active in the affairs of the Miami Nation dating back to the 18th century, and he continues this dedication through his work in language and cultural revitalization.

The Myaamia Center works to revitalize endangered languages

The Myaamia Center has worked to revitalize endangered languages through the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages workshops in Washington, D.C.

Last month, the center was awarded a $182,406 grant by the National Science Foundation for the project. It received a similar NSF grant ($167,650) for the project in 2014.

Breath of Life is designed to train researchers from indigenous communities in methods of archives-based linguistic and ethnographic research. The research is critical to the advancement of knowledge about indigenous languages and cultures.

The Myaamia Center is working closely with the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Program, which is supporting organizational and curatorial support for the Breath of Life program.

Baldwin is co-author on a study showing that tribal students at Miami University, where they learn the language and culture of their heritage among other studies, graduate at much higher rates than Native American students across the U.S.

Baldwin holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology and a master’s in arts with emphasis on Native American linguistics from the University of Montana.