Printer Friendly

Remembering the Miami Indian Village Schoolhouse.

[I]t is the spatial image alone that, by reason of its stability, gives us an illusion of not having changed through time and of retrieving the past in the present. But that's how memory is defined. Space alone is stable enough to endure without growing old or losing any of its parts.

Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory

In 1998 seventy-nine-year old Lora Siders was the tribal historian of the Miami Indians of Indiana. It was an office created for her that honored the value of her memory among these no-longer federally recognized indigenous people. As far as she or anyone else knew, she was the only living Miami Indian with personal memories of the Miami Indian Village schoolhouse:
   Otho Winger was very close to my family because he was my father's teacher
   and he used to come to our house and visit us. (1) That, possibly, is the
   beginning of my connection with the schoolhouse.... My father never went
   anyplace. About the only place he ever went was to one of my uncles' and
   one of my aunts'. Other than that, don't ask him to go anyplace because he
   wouldn't go. But, if there was a meeting up around Jalapa he would go, and
   we never went there and didn't go and visit the school. (2)

I saw the Miami Indian Village Schoolhouse for the first time on a warm rainy day in February of 1998. Earlier in the year Elizabeth Glenn had offered to show me some of the sites in Miami Indian country in East Central Indiana, as I would be teaching a course on Indians of the Great Lakes in the spring and might want to bring students out on a field trip. I succeeded Elizabeth in the anthropology department at Ball State University in the fall of 1997. She has worked with the tribe for the last couple of decades, a group of people of whom Charles Callendar wrote in 1978 in the Northeast volume of the Handbook of North American Indians, "Very little is known about the Indiana Miami, who are usually assumed to be almost entirely acculturated" (p. 687). Known by whom? we might ask, and "entirely acculturated" by whose standards?

We had just visited the largest Indian cemetery in the state, where there are about forty marked graves of members of the community who lived on the state's last Indian reservation toward the end of the nineteenth century. The community of relatives and descendants of Metocina had been living on and by the good graces of the chief, Meshingomesia, on a reserve granted to his father in the treaty of 1840. Six miles east of Marion the area is rural and, as it is within a quarter mile of the Mississinewa River, unlike most of the northern half of the state the land rolls somewhat.

As we drove across a timber-floored one-lane bridge, at a "T" in the road, Elizabeth pointed to what I took to be a shack about twenty feet square standing near a defunct concrete silo and identified it as the schoolhouse. She said there would be a meeting, a gathering there in a few days, as the Miamis were trying to get it back from the descendants of someone who appropriated it fifty or sixty years ago. (3) It had deteriorated to the point that it was no longer useful as a corncrib. Across the road, a brick house with a brick porch on at least two sides distracted my attention for a moment. Elizabeth noticed my noticing it and said that it had belonged to Nelson Aw-taw-wah-taw, Meshingomesia's grandson, a hundred years ago. A non-Indian family now occupied it. The wooden schoolhouse was covered with rusted corrugated iron on the sides I could see and rested a bit precariously on three rows of concrete block that were distinctly listing to the east. The windows had been boarded up. I noted a Christmas wreath on the door. Perhaps it was the mist, or the slap of the windshield wipers, or the dreariness of February, but I found the schoolhouse to be rather pathetic. Then I remembered that a chemist cannot discover the value of gold, and that the meaning of an object inheres in the historical system of relationships within which it exists, not in the object itself.

We looked at the shack from the road then went on to the Godfroy cemetery a few miles away, where about as many other Miamis were also buried, many of these more recently. Frances Godfroy was the last war chief of the Miamis, and held a five thousand--acre parcel of land near the confluence of the Mississinewa and Wabash Rivers at one time. In the 1850s he took in some of those Miamis who had returned after following their relatives to the west during the Removal Period. Called Mt. Pleasant at the time, his wooden frame house was across the road and also in the possession of non-Indians. (4) Elizabeth pointed out graves and told me who was who. She noted the black granite gravestone of Edward Siders and his wife Lora Siders Marks, whose birthdate only was etched into the dark rock: 1919. We were on our way to visit Lora at the Tribal Center in Peru, Indiana, in a high school building the tribe bought from the city in 1990 because, in recently elected Chief Paul Strack's words, "it was cheaper to sell for a hundred dollars than it was to destroy."

Miamis were first encountered by the French in the middle of the seventeenth century, in diaspora. A significant contingent were the dominating group in a massive multiethnic refugee village in the Fox River Valley near Lake Winnebago in what would become Wisconsin. With the decline of Iroquois hegemony late in the century, a part of that group would return to the Upper Wabash-Maumee Rivers area, and settle on the portage at Kekionga, now Fort Wayne, between the continent's interior Mississippi drainage basin and the Great Lakes. (5) They would grow a unique form of white corn and let the world come to them. (6) They would ally with and marry the French, then with the English against the Americans. In that century-long period that the United States regarded the indigenous inhabitants as fully sovereign -- that is, between 1795 and 1871 -- Miami chiefs would cede most of the tribal estate over the course of nineteen treaties. Enacting the benefits of an aristocratic multicultural disposition, highborn Miamis would reserve lands for themselves and their families, thus escaping removal.

At mid-century, after the 1846 removal and the return of over 100 Miamis who spent some time in Kansas, the Miami men who could afford it wore scarves wrapped around their heads like turbans, frock coats and ruffled shirts over breechcloths, leggings, and moccasins. Women wore dark, full broadcloth ankle-length skirts, loose-fitting brightly colored blouses, legions with ribbon work, and, commonly, several pair of earrings. (7) These are all local signs of distinction in a cosmopolitan idiom. (8) There were about 250 people in seven exogamous intermarrying extended family groups led by a council of chiefs that had negotiated those individual reserves. The residential community living on a ten-square mile tract on the north bank of the Mississinewa River in Grant County was led by Meshingomesia, who built the schoolhouse and the Miami Union Baptist Church in the early 1860s. Meshingomesia himself was baptized earlier "on a Sunday in June, 1861." (9)

This putatively assimilative orientation represented a long-time Miami geopolitical strategy of effectively trading off certain surface cultural practices for social separation and distinction. This disposition was not unlike the equally hierarchical southeastern Cherokees, who also sought to maintain their integrity in a kind of reduplicative articulation with the encompassing non-Indian society. It is not insignificant that the Miamis regarded the Cherokees as their ancient enemies. It was in a conflict with them that the Miamis received the name by which they know themselves. (10) This accommodative strategy may be a general characteristic of indigenous groups with emergent classes. "Only among the Miamis did the French recognize leaders who seemed to possess power in the French sense," according to Richard White. (11) Indeed, George Hyde, using Nicholas Perrot's materials on the Miamis, suggested that the Miamis had "acquired a sun-king tradition from cultural contacts with either Mississippian mound builders or southwestern tribes, since all Miami chiefs wielded great power." (12) Vernon Kinietz quotes Claude de la Potherie's seventeenth-century History.
   Among these latter was the head chief of the Miamis, named Tetinchoua, who,
   as if he had been the king, kept in his cabin day and night forty young men
   as a body guard. The Village that he governed was one of four to five
   thousand warriors: he was, in a word, feared and respected by all his
   neighbors. (13)

The moundbuilding reference is tantalizing. A people without "legends or myths of previous migrations," the Miamis were always well within the region designated by Robert Jeske's map of selected Mississippian and Upper Mississippian sites in the Upper Midwest. (14) They are clearly within the Cahokian sphere of influence or periphery, the site of the largest earthwork north of Mexico and a town more populous than London a thousand years ago. Whether affiliated with this ancient metropolis or not, the historic Miamis were a chiefly frontier people of sorts, clearly inclined to broker wealth between world systems.

Unlike many of their fellow Algonquians to the north, wherein leadership is a matter of acts, Miami leadership is a matter of being, that is, of descent. "Their chiefs are hereditary," Trowbridge wrote in 1824-25, his only named informants being the chiefs Le Gros and Richardville. (15) Later in the nineteenth century Meshingomesia, eldest of the ten sons of Chief Metocina, "sometimes arranged marriages, performed marriage rites, removed children from parents who were neglectful or abusive, suggested adoptions, and ousted trouble-makers from the village community ... invited homeless Indians to the reservation ... worked to maintain tribal rights, attended treaty negotiations ... (and) ... disbursed payments of annuities." (16) Still, in the twentieth century Miami leaders compete for political legitimacy in the cultural idiom of genealogy. (17) Though they are elected, more often than not it is a competition between members of the Richardville-LaFontaine and Meshingomesia "clans" or extended family groups -- groups that exist by virtue of the memory of chiefs -- who rise to candidacy on the basis of their distinction and whose personal projects are the life of the community. (18) In an interview in 1998, Lora Siders Marks recalled:
   Well then my mother died and I don't remember us going back. Probably the
   last time I visited that school was in the late twenties or early thirties.
   And then when I went back -- I had lived away from here -- doing different
   things. When I did go back there was a house there and the school was gone.
   I assumed that the school had fallen in. Because, I think when I first
   started going there, the church was there, but it was in such bad repair we
   never bothered the church. Well, we would go to the door and look in and I
   know there was practically no flooring so we stayed away from it. We would
   just go to the doorway and look in. Then course, when we went back, there
   was nothing there, so I assumed that everything had fallen in. Until, Chief
   Shoemaker and his brother and I went to the attorneys in Marion and wanted
   to know why this house was built there. (19) That was land that belonged to
   the cemetery and then we found out that the school was not demolished[,]
   that it had been moved by a neighbor.

   When we approached Ray White [appointed chairman of the tribe in 1978 by
   Chief Shoemaker] even though none of his folks ever went to that school, it
   still was the Miami Indian School and he was in favor of having Miami
   Indian things back in order. (20) He was kind of a go-getter. (21)

How does this late-twentieth century schoolhouse project relate to this longer cultural history? Lora Siders's personal memory motivated and mediated the chiefly project of the repatriation of public architecture to the site of human burials, one of the diacritical marks of Mississippian chiefdoms incidentally. The return of the schoolhouse, a moment in the re-imagining of the landscape, was the means of reconstituting a past that legitimates the present. The re-imagination was predicated upon Lora's personal memories of a space that connected her with her own father and their family with the world Otho Winger represented. The schoolhouse would become a sign of the fact that personal memories of relationship and community existed. The indefinite quality of its own objectivity indexed the ramifying nature of those personal memories.

The schoolhouse was being re-membered. It was Lora Siders's honoring of Chief Shoemaker's desire to have the building back, repatriated to its original necropolitan location. A local axis mundi of sorts, Miamis visit the cemetery as a kind of pilgrimage site. Wap Shing, the current spiritual leader at Peru, conducts healing ceremonies there. The schoolhouse itself was a site wherein the Miami people re-membered and re-imagined themselves as a people. From 14 May until 7 July 1873, scores of Miami people sat down with federal congressional commissioners in the schoolhouse "to make partition of the reserve," and spoke of their memories of their relatedness -- who their parents, aunts, and uncles were, who their brothers and sisters, children, and grandchildren were, who they married and their children, the ages of all these people, whether they were living or dead, how they died, and when they came to live on the Meshingomesia reserve. It was a rehearsal for the General Allotment Act fourteen years later. Sasaquaseah testified: "I want to drop it here. I want to live here so when I die I will have a place prepared for me in the other world. I don't care how poor I am here. I want to be pure in heart so when I die I will have a place prepared for me." (22)

With the reserve allotted to individuals, the landholdings moved into the hands of the more-capitalized non-Indian commercial farmers over the course of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In 1897, in response to a question as to how to litigate a case against the state of Indiana regarding taxation, the assistant attorney general of the United States informed the tribal leadership that they were no longer an Indian tribe under federal law.

This devastating event is remembered as the greatest of all possible betrayals and has motivated a series of undertakings that have transformed the history of this relatively socially distinct, superficially culturally assimilated group of communities over the course of the last century. They liquidated their material patrimony in the early twentieth century, then later performed Indian pageants in order to purchase the services of lawyers to speak to the BIA and to Congress on their behalf. (23) Miami extended families made, broke, and remade alliances with each other, factionalized in response to the Indian Claims Commission, and reconciled in the assembly an exemplary application for federal recognition under the guidelines established by the BIA in 1978, only to have their application turned down in the early 1990s. All of these undertakings valorized memory even as the process of remembering strengthened the competing claims of family leaders for the leadership of the entire tribe. (24) Lora's memory of her father's love for the school he attended before the termination personalized for her the repatriation of the landscape he was so disinclined to leave.

Most of the 4,500 Eastern Miamis are working class and live in the small, declining rust belt cities in the Upper Wabash River Valley. Socially and politically the Miamis understand themselves to live in families or clans, named after their tribe's mid-nineteenth century chiefs and community leaders. These are transformations of the lineages that were so prominent in the Omaha kinship system they displayed in earlier centuries. (25) This self-identification as descendants replicates the naming of the tribal divisions in the eighteenth century, with the Weas named for the Kekionga expatriate, Wuyoakeetonwau, and the Piankeshaws named for the Wea ex-pat, Puyunkeeshau. (26) Though they were never extended the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act, representation on the tribal council today is organized by family or "clan," as Miami people tellingly refer to them. Residence in these small cities of Eastern Indiana re-iterates this inclination: 93 percent of the Miamis living in Peru are Godfroy descendants; 79 percent of the Miamis living in Huntington (at the forks of the Wabash River) are Richardville-LaFontaine; 72 percent of the Miamis in Marion are Meshingomesia. (27) Over the course of the twentieth century the Miamis came to marry non-Indians and trace descent bilaterally, the effect being to reinforce the boundaries between the groups that constitute the tribe. (28)

In somewhat the same way that the Miami rehearsed allotment a decade and half before it became a legal fact, they began the process of rehearsing provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act a decade and half before it became a legal fact, with Chief Shoemaker's announced desire "to put Miami things in order."

Lora Siders was the sole Miami with memories of the schoolhouse in its original location. It was by virtue of her memory and the memories of her now-passed sister Carmen that she was the tribe's historian in the 1990s. She had been a council member and knew she was a descendant of the nineteenth-century polygamous chief Godfroy's second wife Mary Mongosa. Mongosas have acted as mediators over the course of the century. (29) Lora was not only located in the set of Miami historical relations, however. Chiefly in her own right, and as acting chief for a short time in the early 1990s, she also mediated contemporary intercultural relations. Her personal memory honored Chief Shoemaker's desire. She shared that desire with the spiritual leader, Wap Shing, who would like to draw some attention away from the land as significant only for its value as a War of 1812 battle site. (30) Wap Shing in turn shared this desire with non-tribal member Joann Calvert, who has worked very diligently to make this repatriation possible by pursuing legal and social avenues for a number of years, entirely at her own expense. Even this historical process is culturally structured.

The Miami people have always lived within the context of other societies, other peoples. The very location of their villages, such as Kekionga on the portage between the headwaters of the Maumee and the Wabash after their return from Iroquois-induced diaspora in Wisconsin in the seventeenth century, was motivated in a desire to mediate the French relationship with other tribes. Though Miami people made some of their living from growing that special white corn, they were also hunters, gatherers, and traders. Cosmologically they are Algonquian hunters. As such, the social and cultural project was to cross social and conceptual boundaries for the purpose of procuring value and then to transform that into local social and spiritual wealth. This is as true for animal bodies, guardian spirits, and trade goods, as it is for monotheism and so-called non-Miami persons. Cultural icon Frances Slocum may be the paradigmatic case: a white child captive who would become a village chief's wife. (31) Shortly after a reunion with her brothers and sister, when all were in their sixties and seventies, her nephew George came from the east to successfully bring the Miamis the Baptist faith; he failed, however, to teach them the skills and dispositions to be successful at commercial agriculture.

The current spiritual leader at Peru was raised in the Netherlands, and is a former Episcopalian priest. His kinship ties are primarily adoptive. But, then again, more than three hundred years ago LaSalle credibly and ceremonially presented himself to these Miami ancestors as the symbolically reincarnated Ouabicolata, and was then adopted as a relative. (32) The most active agent in the schoolhouse repatriation project of reconstituting a built form of a local Miami landscape was a non-tribal member, though one who both imagined herself and was imagined to be somehow descended from Indiana's indigenous people. Indeed, Lora Siders told Calvert that she felt that Chief Ray White's spirit was working through her. (33)

This valorization of history and built form is motivated in a dialect of endogenous and exogenous forces. Miamis struggled for recognition of their social and cultural distinction for the entire twentieth century. The non-Indian residents legitimize their own presence on the landscape by memorializing and temporalizing the idea of an Indian presence. (34) Warder Crows's letter to his nephew is exemplary of this nostalgia, referring to "the first owners of the land." (35) Of the Meshingomesia cemetery itself he writes: "their monuments and the ruined church are mute testimony of the extinction of a people once all powerful in our beloved Indiana." (36) Miamis have had to show that they still exist and do it on terms that are recognizable to their local and potentially sympathetic non-Indian allies. They have had to demonstrate their historical existence and presence. This appropriation of exogenous concern for the past, however, converges with the endogenous valuing of the past because of the role that descent has always played in the legitimization of political power, as is the case of any chieftainship.

This local dialectic resides within a larger context. The proliferation of emergent local identities (in many cases the revitalization of historic ethnicities), represents the decline of Western hegemony. In Friedman's terms, dehegemonization and de-homogenization are aspects of the same process. (37) The grand narrative that relegated people like the Miamis to a periphery in America's imagination is on the decline. The form of this undertaking -- the repatriation of an arguably colonialist institutional structure of a one-room schoolhouse -- is not accidental either. It is part of a global heritage movement John Urry writes about. He motivates it in:
   The loss of trust of the future as it is undermined by ... instantaneous
   time and the proliferation of incalculable risk; the view that contemporary
   social life is deeply disappointing and that there really was a golden age
   in the past; the increased aesthetic sensibility to signs or the patina of
   oldness, to old places, crafts, houses, countryside and so on. (38)

Miami Chief Ray White, who transmitted the previous chief's desire to repatriate the schoolhouse, worked in the declining east central Indiana city of Muncie as an autoworker. He was active in the union leadership there. He spent his mature working years observing the signs of the de-industrialization of these small midwestern cities. It could not have been lost on him that the strategy of migrating to the cities as factory workers that his people undertook in the twentieth century, was losing viability. The "loss of trust of the future" and the sense of"risk," "disappointment," and nostalgia for "a golden age" (as expressed by Urry) has not only crossed social and cultural borders into peripheral sectors, it has become the basis of the possibility for a future for those regions. The schoolhouse project has this heritage dimension. Lora said that she would like to repatriate the Nelson Aw-taw-wah-taw house, where she remembers being told that the men played cards and socialized downstairs and the women sewed and talked upstairs. She would like to repatriate and restore the rest of the village near the old cemetery as well.

Intra-tribally, such remembering projects are part of the strategy of producing political legitimacy. The Huntington branch of the Miamis, mostly descendants of Richardville, sponsors tours of the Richardville-LaFontaine nineteenth-century brick house as part of the annual powwow in mid-August. The tribal council room at the Miami Tribal Center in Peru (with its tree stump reputedly taken from the site of the treaty signed in the early nineteenth century), the meeting house that was built at Seven Pillars on the Mississinewa River, the Chiefs' house in Huntington, the Bundy-Slocum, Godfroy, and Meshingomesia cemeteries, and now the Miami Indian Schoolhouse are all sites of memory; but they also exist for memory. (39) Maria Teski and Jacob Climo write that "Memory is not recall. Rather, it is a continuous process based on rumination by individuals and groups on the content and meaning of the recent and more distant past," and, I would add, in the service of constituting a present and a future, undertaken from a particular location. (40)

A few days after I saw the schoolhouse for the first time, we returned there to look at it with everyone who was involved in the process of its repatriation. It was a stunningly beautiful day, warm, bright, clear. This was the day that the recently constituted schoolhouse committee -- tribal members Lora Siders, Carolyn Knauf, and Tom LeVonture -- were to visit the site as a group for the first time. It was anticipated to be significant as it was an effort to motivate and enfranchise the committee members in the project Lora had inherited, as well as motivating others who were interested in the schoolhouse project. The group included Wap Shing, Joann Calvert, former state senator Lauren Winger (son of Otho, who had procured funds for the tribe to purchase the building), the current owners of the schoolhouse, the prospective restoration specialist, a representative of the Lions Club, and me.

Lora gave the people who came a packet of the following copied documents:

1. The most recent correspondence from the tribe's attorney interpreting the most recent correspondence from the attorney representing Larry Stuber, current owner of the schoolhouse.

2. A one-page fragment of Peconga's autobiography typed in the Miami language with handwritten interlinear translation

3. A document written on Miami Nation of Indians of the State of Indiana stationery, entitled "School Cast," identifying principals in the project.

4. A photo of the students in the second (the brick version) Indian Village School, taken in 1906.

5. A copy of the commissioner's deed conveying the cemetery property to the tribe, dated 21 November 1984.

6. A copy of the Indiana Property Record Card for the cemetery.

Thus was some part of enfranchisement accomplished with these gifts. The dissemination of this information testifies to the past existence and significance of what Lora also remembered. The group spent an hour looking at the building then moved the quarter-mile away to the cemetery to look at both its original site and to choose a site where the restored building would be placed.

Lora said she wanted to have a reunion of the people who came out to the schoolhouse that day, an example of the social and political dimensions of the repatriation process shaping memory. The value of her memory is altered by virtue of the quality of the social interaction on that day, and by virtue of the sunshine and the warmth and good feeling. I remember her leaning against the tombstone of Camillus Aw-taw-wah-taw, exhausted after hours of reminiscing, visiting, videotaping, and dreaming about the future of this little necropolitan axis mundi. Her memory of that day, now repeated more than once to the principals in this process, has enhanced the value of the day and has shaped this project.

In the bright, hot, and humid mid-afternoon of Saturday, 19 September 1998, nearly one hundred people (most of whom were tribal members) gathered at the schoolhouse for a "Ceremony to Commemorate Gift of the Miami School Building." Carolyn Knauf's husband, Harry, gave away copies of a postcard photograph depicting the extended Godfroy family at the turn of the twentieth century standing in front of Mt. Pleasant, a card that is marketed by the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. Al Harker, the tribe's attorney, presided over the transfer of the deed from Larry Stuber to Paul Strack, the recently elected chief of the Miami Tribe. Just as the principals were gathering outside the building, I asked schoolhouse committee member Tom LeVonture what he thought this meant:
   You see markers on the highways about where things USED TO BE, now you are
   going to see a marker of where something STILL IS. When you add that third
   dimension to history, it makes it more real and makes it easier to grasp.
   The man off the street, now he sees and thinks, "Well this was reservation

   It would have been my great-great-great-great-grandfather who paid to build
   this school. It was on his land. He owned it, but he did it for them, for
   his people, for his grandchildren. SO it helps to change that perception
   that Indians were isolationists. They embraced education. Education, at
   that time, was a fundamental tool for basic survival in this ever-changing
   society. (41)

With Wap Shing in the hospital, Harker invited Darryl Baldwin, an heir apparent, to pray. First he greeted everyone in the Miami language, then spoke of his own ambivalence about his people's historical strategy of acquiescing in an assimilative articulation with the dominant society.
   It's really good to see everyone here. On the way out here we were kind of
   talking about the schoolhouse. One of the questions I asked was how much of
   the language do you think was spoken in and around the schoolhouse at the
   time a lot of our children, our ancestors, were going to school here? It
   was a pretty general consensus that, at least at that time, still, a
   certain amount of language [was spoken] but it was probably also a
   beginning point for the loss of our language as well. It was the
   educational institutions at the time that started to begin to wipe the
   Indian off of many of the people. So it seems only fitting that here we are
   today to give an invocation, a prayer in the language. (42)

After he finished praying the chief read the tribal council's resolution passed just that morning, thanking the Stuber family for the gift of the schoolhouse. Then Lora Siders was invited to speak. She stepped forward and there was a long silence. It appeared to me that she was crying.
   I'm sorry. I am so happy for this day. People that know me know how happy I
   am for this day. So I guess, of necessity, I want you to go with me now.

   When I was a small child my father went to this school. My father was a man
   who didn't go anyplace. He didn't want to leave home. And the only place he
   would go if anybody said they were coming to (was) Hog's Back, Jalapa, or
   this place. He was the first one ready to come. And so I started visiting
   this school when I was, ... my first memory was when I was three or four
   years old. My father and his brothers and sisters attended this school.
   There are a number of them here. Are any of Uncle Charlie's family here? Or
   my family, please raise your hand. [Four or five people raised their

   Let it be known that we are descendants of this school. I just guess, I am
   just too happy to know that this is happening. (43)

   My father was a man who didn't want to go anyplace. He didn't want to leave
   home ... we are the descendants of this school." This powerful public
   telling of this memory, in this context of repatriation, produces the link
   between those hundred or so people and an imagined emergent historic Miami
   landscape, a version of Climo and Teski's vicarious memory, wherein
   "memories are passed from generation to generation to become the social and
   cultural memories of a group. (44)

Lora Siders reflected on her hopes:
   In five years from now, I hope it [the schoolhouse] will be used, like so
   many times we have meetings with people from as far away as Lafayette, and
   people from Fort Wayne. It's going to be a closer place. It's kind of
   midway. I look at it as that. But more important, I look at it, and the
   language committee is real anxious to have language classes there. Now we
   have language classes once a year on our property. They stay for the week
   and they bring their kids. The exciting thing for me is that (they take)
   these little kids ... out through the woods and they give them the Indian
   name for anything that happens to be growing, moving, anything that they
   see. They are learning the Indian words ... And these kids are growing up
   knowing our language. Well they have an idea and I go right along with it
   that this is a school, this is the place where, say, every Saturday we
   could be having a language class there, every Sunday afternoon we could be
   having a language class there. They are getting the Cultural Committee
   together, what better place than at the school, for that cultural committee
   to meet? And a lot of those people are from the Fort Wayne-Huntington area,
   and some of them are from here, and what better place for them to meet? So
   I see that school continuing its teaching and learning abilities. I just
   see no end to it. I guess that's the most important thing.

   Being egotistical, or something, I would like to see a reunion there for
   the people who met, the day you and Elizabeth came down and Tom. I would
   like to see at least a reunion at least once a year of those people, and
   maybe people who are interested that didn't get to come that day, that
   didn't know about that day. (45)

The reunion would take place in the fall of 2000 in the gymnasium of the school the tribe had converted into a bingo hall. But this night the only sign of this function were the six TV monitors that rested on the rims of the basketball hoops. The space had been redecorated for the community celebration of Lora's life, now complete.

Lora lay facing the east in a purple dress with a feather fan in her hands. Her hair was grayer than I remembered it being. Her red dancing shawl lay draped over the side of the coffin, fringe nearly touching the floor and barely moving in the slight breezes that wafted through the large room.

More than two dozen floral wreaths had been sent. They were interspersed with photos of Lora and her family, photos of the Miami reunion that has taken place for nearly one hundred years in Wabash, the schoolhouse, the framed "Sagamore of the Wabash" award from the governor, and the oil portrait painted by Evelyn Ritter and reproduced along with thirty-nine others of tribal leaders in Always a People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland Indians (a book project taken at the behest of Ray White, Miami chief in the 1980s). (46) Someone had taken the trouble of draping all the railings of the bleachers behind the bier with Mexican blankets.

Nick Clark, former director of the Minnetrista Council for Great Lakes Native American Studies in Muncie and, at the time, the director of the Prophetstown museum and cultural center near Lafayette, took the role of emcee. He smudged people. With sage burning in a conch shell, he directed the smoke with an eagle-wing fan toward others who drew the smoke to themselves with their hands, pulling it over their heads, faces, and torsos in what is becoming a pan-Indian act of purification. The Twight Twee Drum sang an honor song. Lora named them ten years ago when this diffuse community of Wabash Miami began to feel the tug of the past and the future, and expressed that in a variety of efforts to recreate their culture. Family and friends were invited to talk about the ways in which she made a difference in their lives. A man in his thirties addressed the assembly in the Miami language, gave a short translation, and placed his gift on the blanket. The last person to have learned the language as a child, one Ross Bundy, died in 1963. On a blanket lain on the floor, people offered her gifts for her passage, tobacco seeds, small bowls, sage, cedar, a favorite knife.

Clarence White of the recently recognized Pokegan Potawatomi addressed those gathered in Anishinabemowin, then made fire with flint and steel, and smoked a pipe for Lora.

The remembrance finished, Elizabeth Glenn and I slowly walked, visiting with Louise Hay and her niece as we went. "Louise is now the senior Miami elder," Elizabeth told me after we parted. Now in her mid-eighties, she owns the only parcel of Miami land that has been continuously occupied by Miami people since they returned to Indiana in the 1680s.


(1.) Otho Winger taught at the Miami Indian Village School for three years beginning in 1895. Of the Indian students' ability to learn, he noted "As a rule you might say they are better in subjects that require the use of memory, such as history, spelling and reading." See Otho Winger, The Frances Slocum Trail (North Manchester IN: L. W. Schultz, 1933), 75. He went on to the presidency of Manchester College and wrote a number of local histories.

(2.) Interview with Lora Siders, 18 May 18 1998, Peru IN.

(3.) Warder Crow's 1936 manuscript letter to "Jimmy" in the Wabash County Historical Society records indicates that "east of the church about 150 feet a frame school house was still in use until 1897. It occupied land previously owned by the Indians for which they had given no title -- a sort of `Squatter's Rights' arrangement given by common consent but not formally, only tacitly. It was not a new building in 1880, when Uncle Hamlin Crow saw it when he came from Ohio to visit his brother James. It was moved to the west side of the road ... and probably is still used as a granary" (p. 5).

(4.) By the fall of 2000 Mt. Pleasant had burnt to the ground.

(5.) William Wepler, "Miami Occupation of the Upper Wabash Drainage," Archaeological Resources Management Service, Report of Investigation 16 (Muncie IN: Ball State University, 1988), 1-12.

(6.) The Miami Chief Little Turtle referred to the portage as "the glorious gate" in Rob Mann's essay, "The Silenced Miami: Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Evidence for Miami-British Relations, 1795-1812," Ethnohistory 46 no. 3 (summer 1999): 408.

(7.) Stewart Rafert, The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654-1994 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1996), 104.

(8.) This aristocratic disposition has been noted earlier by Charles R. Poinsatte in Fort Wayne during the Canal Era 1828-1855: A Study of a Western Community in the Middle Period of American History (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, Indiana Historical Collections vol. 24): 98. Poinsatte quotes Nathaniel West, who in his investigation of claims made against the Miamis in January of 1839 noted that "indolence, extravagance and love of display pervade the whole nation; many of the young men wear clothes which cost at least $100, indeed, none but the finest goods will sell amongst them." In somewhat the same way that eighteenth-century Haitians and early nineteenth-century Polynesians valorized American republican culture, and in so doing identified themselves as participants in the transnational politico-cultural avant garde, Miami War Chief Gabriel Godfroy named one of his many children George Washington. See Elizabeth Glenn's "Ethnohistory Report on Francois Godfroy's Salamonie Reserve," typescript, 11. And like the members of the chiefly family that governed Hawaii, who "signified the control of land, food and people" by their very bulk, Godfroy weighed between 300 and 350 pounds. See Marshall Sahlins, "Cosmologies of Capitalism: The Trans-Pacific Sector of `The World System,'" Proceedings of the British Academy 74 (1988): 33.

(9.) Lewis Whitson Rolland, Centennial History of Grant County (Chicago: Lewis, 1988), 53; and Winger, Frances Slocum Trail, 74.

(10.) C. C. Trowbridge, "Meearmeear Traditions," Occasional Contributions from the Museum of Anthropology of the University of Michigan vol. 7, Vernon Kinietz, ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938): 8.

(11.) Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region 1600-1815 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 37.

(12.) Bert Anson, The Miami Indians (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), 14.

(13.) Vernon Kinietz, The Indians of the Western Great Lakes, 1615-1760 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1986), 180.

(14.) Anson, Miami Indians, 15; and Robert Jeske, "World Systems Theory, Core, Periphery Interactions and Elite Economic Exchange in Mississippian Societies," Journal of World Systems Research 2.10 (

(15.) Trowbridge, "Meearmeear Traditions," 13.

(16.) Rafert, Miami of Indiana, 140-41.

(17.) Mary Helms, Creations of the Rainbow Serpent:: Polychrome Ceramic Designs from Ancient Panama (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), notes this phenomena generally. "Association with, and knowledge about, times and conditions of cosmological and/or cultural origins and creations is a major preoccupation of political and religious authorities in traditional societies because association with origins, with beginnings, both legitimizes authority and creates personal political ability" (106-7).

(18.) I draw here upon Marshall Sahlins's discussion of heroic history in Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 35-54.

(19.) Lora's husband grew up with Chief Shoemaker in Wabash. The latter was a Meshingomesia descendant, and Edward Siders likely descended from the Godfroys, according to Lora Marks.

(20.) Rafert, Miami of Indiana, 278. Rafert adds that the delegation of day-to-day management responsibilities to a kapia is a long-standing Miami political practice. The Kaupeeau, in Trowbridge's early-nineteenth century orthography, is a "chief who holds the belts and other insignias of power," belts "illustrative of events in their history." I would add that Miami's Algonquoian-speaking "elder brothers" well to the north (the Ojibwes) are similarly inclined, with Crane clan members delegating to Loons in the remembered political order of things.

(21.) Interview with Lora Siders, 18 May 1998, Peru IN.

(22.) Typesecript of Stewart Rafert and Lemoine Marks, eds., "Testimony Pursuant to Congressional Legislation of 1 June 1872, Taken before the Commission Appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to Make Partition of the Reserve Granted to Me-shin-go-me-sia in Trust for His Band by the Seventh Article of the Treaty of 28 November 1840 between the United States and the Miami Tribe of Indians. Testimony Taken at the School House on the Reservation Adjoining the Union Baptist Missionary Church, from 14 May 1873 to 7 July a873 (from Indiana Heritage Research Grant 89-3032, administered by the Minnetrista Cultural Center, Muncie IN, 1991), 156.

(23.) Lora remembers the pageants being made up of fictional episodes of scalpings, kidnappings, chiefs' councils voting, hunting, dancing, "what the white people wanted to see." The city of Peru put on the Maconaquah pageant, the story of Francis Slocum who as a child was kidnapped by the Delawares in 1778 from her home near the village of Wilkes-Barre in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, then sold to the Miamis. As a fully enculturated mature Miami woman and wife of the war chief Deaf Man, she revealed her original identity in 1835; she later was visited by her long-lost and aging brothers, which motivated the emigration of her nephew to Deaf Man's multiethnic village in 1846. See Winger, Frances Slocum Trail, 1-20.

(24.) Rafert, in Miami of Indiana, identifies groups in terms of the intensity of their involvement with Miami concerns: he identifies a core of twenty-five to thirty passionately committed Miami; then five hundred to seven hundred who would work for the tribe, attend meeting and reunions, and "knew lots of tribal history" (273-74).

(25.) Charles Callendar, "Miami," in Handbook of North American Indians vol. 15, William Sturtevant, ed. (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, GPO, 1978), 611

(26.) Trowbridge, "Meearmeear Traditions," 11.

(27.) Rafert, Miami of Indiana, 286.

(28.) Typescript of Susan Greenbaum, "Anthropological Report on the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana: Social and Political Organization, Territorial Distributions, Social Relations, and Cultural Identity" (self-published report, 1990): 7.

(29.) Greenbaum, "Report on Miami," 11.

(30.) At least two villages were destroyed in the Mississinewa campaign.

(31.) See chap. 3, "Frances Slocum and Her Descendants: The Uses of an Indian Captivity," in Stewart Rafert's "The Hidden Community: The Miami Indians of Indiana, 1846-1940," Ph.D. diss., University of Delaware, 1982.

(32.) Robert Hall, An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 10-13.

(33.) Though current practice is deeply rooted, it pervades Miami history. Meshingomesia's eldest son, Po-cong-yah, testified in 1873 that he was "acquainted with the customs of the Indians in their adoptions. When a person dies they go and bury him, but still they say his spirit is there at the house yet. They say that when they don't make an adoption, the spirit still stays there and all the rest of the family keep dying off." See Rafert and Marks, "Testimony," 411.

(34.) Muncie, Indiana, alone, for example, has four public monumental statues of Indians. None of them are of the Miami, though the oldest may be of a Woodland. Two are of Plains Indians, and the most recent is either generic Southwest or Hallmark (as in cards). The inclination on the part of the local non-Indian aristocracy to realize a fantastic indigenous past in public space is notable and a topic for future research in this region, a region that is known for its Indian hobbyism as well.

(35.) Warder Crow letter, 2.

(36.) Warder Crow letter, 7.

(37.) Jonathan Friedman, Cultural Identity and Global Process (London: Sage, 1995).

(38.) John Urry, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage Publications, 1990), 52.

(39.) The exhibit "In the Presence of the Past: The Miami Indians of Indiana," was installed at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis for an eighteen-month run closing in late 1998. The exhibit played an important role in the ongoing revitalization of Miami Indian identity as well. Part of the exhibit was a videotape entitled "Being Miami" and a CD-ROM of the same name, both of which remain as permanent repositories and continue to circulate.

(40.) Jacob Climo and Marea Teski, The Labyrinth of Memory: Ethnographic Journeys (Westport CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1985), 2.

(41.) Interview with Tom LeVonture, 19 September 1998.

(42.) Larry Nesper, "Ceremony to Commemorate Gift of the Miami School Building," audiorecording, 19 September 1998.

(43.) Nesper, "Ceremony" audiorecording.

(44.) Climo and Teski, Labyrinth of Memory, 9.

(45.) Interview with Lora Siders, 18 May 1998, Peru IN.

(46.) Rita Kohn and W. Lynwood Montell, Always a People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland Indians (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).

Larry Nesper is an assistant professor of anthropology at Ball State University. His research is in the area of contemporary American Indian culture and politics.
COPYRIGHT 2001 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Nesper, Larry
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Previous Article:Wisdom of the people: potential and pitfalls in efforts by the Comanches to recreate traditional ways of building consensus.
Next Article:An annotated Chiricahua Apache bibliography -- selected books.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |