Miami Indian Culture

Miami Indian culture and other information about their past lifestyle.

The Miami Indian tribes were part of the Algonquin Indians. The first European contact was recorded as being about 1654 when two French explorers found some Miami refugees northwest of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The first written record of them was in 1658.

The French referred to the Miami as "Oumamik" from the Obijawa "Omanik". "Miamiak" is the Miami name for themselves. The origin of the name "Miami" is not actually known and has many forms. Maumee is another form of Miami.

The Miami originally lived in several areas near the Great Lakes. It is believed that they lived to the west, south, and east of lower Lake Michigan.

In 1669 they were found mostly around Green Bay, Wisconsin. They gradually moved to what is now Chicago, St. Joseph, Michigan, and along the Maumee River. They lived along the Maumee and the Wabash Rivers until they gave up their lands to the whites.

The Miami resembled the Illinois Indians in their language and customs. They lived in dome shaped wigwams and their villages were surrounded by fields of corn. Corn was their main crop.

The Miami were divided into clans. They could not marry within their own clan. All children were counted with the clan of their father. Each clan had its own chief. The chief was an hereditary office and was handed down to the father's eldest son. If he had no son then it went to his oldest sister's son. One account said that it always went to the oldest sister's son. If there were more than one then the mother would purposefully put her son forward in the clan.

The head chief had the authority to make decisions for the good of the others. He was not allowed to be in a war party. He had a group of young men that traveled with him and attended him.

He actually had the function of a diplomat, keeping good relations between tribes and other such duties.

There were some women chiefs on occasion who, if they had had a dream or vision, were allowed to go with the war parties. For the most part, the women did tremendous amounts of the work that needed to be done for the tribe.

The women were the workers in the fields. They cultivated the crops, gathered the maize, jerked and dried the deer, bear, and buffalo meat. They prepared the meals and gathered the wood. She sewed the bark canoes together. When moving from one place to another, the Indian women carried the wigwam material on their backs.

The Miami men hunted, skinned and tanned the hides(although the women helped with this), trapped animals, and went to war.

Miami men were allowed to marry more than once--in fact if they had many wives they were thought to be wealthy. Divorce was easy. A husband or wife could just walk away for just about any reason if at all justified.

The Miami were the most powerful tribe in the West. They were the tribe that had the greatest effect upon the history of the state of Indiana.

Indiana became the seat of the Miami Confederacy(made up of several tribes who joined together to fight against their hereditary enemies, the Iroquois).

When the French entered Indiana they found the Miami in complete control. The Miami received the French decently and gave them some land. They were very close with the French at first.

Miamis had the reputation of being skilled warriors. While that was true in part, some of it had to do with the allies they chose. They took the sides of various people in different wars. Sometimes it was the French, sometimes the British, and sometimes the Indians.

They raised corn, small fruits, and vegetables. The Miamis had important locations along the trade routes which helped them to be more in control of things than other tribes in the area. The villages were built in woodlands on freshwater lakes and rivers. It seems that they stayed in the villages for eight months of the year. There was an abundance of game, fish, nuts, berries, and roots in these areas. In winter they migrated to the Grand Prairie. This is where the buffalo spent the winter, also. They camped there and killed all that they needed for food and clothing.

It is said that the Miamis had a quiet, perservering, and determined nature. They were among the first of the Indian races and called themselves "MEN". Heroic and war-like were adjectives used to describe them.

The Miami enjoyed playing games. Forms of gambling were very popular. The bowl game was quite popular among the women, who would sometimes play it for days at a time. Shooting an arrow at objects thrown into the air was another favorite. Sometimes gambling games were played between different villages. Games of strength and skill, including swimming and wrestling, were played often.

Diseases killed off many of the Miami long before they actually met the white people. The Indians had no natural immunities against white man's diseases. These diseases killed more Indians than all of the battles between the races put together. Smallpox, measeles, and bubonic plague were the worst diseases.

The Miami had one feature that set them apart from other tribes. They quite often condemned their prisoners to be eaten.(This is recorded in a number of written records.) There would be one family who would have been trained for this--it was handed down according to heredity. The eating was done in public(after the victim was roasted).

There were religious ceremonies accompanying it and the whole tribe turned out to watch.

From the Miamis came one of the greatest chiefs and warriors in United States history--Me-che-can-noch-qua--Little Turtle. He was a man of many talents and he was very courageous(noted at a young age). He became a tribal leader at an early age. He carried himself with a dignity that caused both Indians and whites to respect him. From the time that he reached the head of his nation until his death there was none to equal his influence.

He visited Philedelphia where his portrait was painted by one of the most well known artists of that time. President Washington once presented him with a sword.

He was a clever and strategic warrior against the Americans for a number of years. Once peace was established, however, he accepted it and honored it. He is said to have done the most to bring the practice of cannibalism to an end. He also fought much against the bringing of strong drink to the Indians because he saw that it was causing their decline. It seems that once the English brought liquor and introduced it to the Indians, and the Americans promoted it even more, the Indians did indeed have a rapid decline. Little Turtle died in 1812 at Kekionga, what is now Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

The white men were not content with the land that had been opened up to them--they wanted more. More and more treaties were made, forcing Indians to give up their land. In 1846 the U.S. Army tried to force the Miami to leave their homes and lands in Indiana. On November 9, 1846, the division of the historic Miami tribe took place. They became known as the Indiana Miami and the Western, or Oklahoma, Miami.

Indiana was allowed to have 148 Miami stay legally within the state. The others were all to go west. Those that were left were in scattered villages. The Western Miami faced terrible times when they went to Kansas. Some of those came back to Indiana and joined the Miami there.

Today the Miami tribes are still working to have recognition with the Federal government as an Indian tribe.

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