“The Miami Nation in Today’s Perspective of Native Americans,” was presented to the Fort Wayne Quest Club on October 29, 1993 by William R. Clark, Jr.: The title of this paper includes the term “Nation” as in Miami Nation,” and perhaps implies a degree of political organization and cohesiveness that did not truly exist for the Miamis or their neighbors. The title also includes the phrase “in today’s perspective.” The Miamis, like all Native Americans, passed their historical beliefs from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Written accounts of their culture and their activities come from explorers, traders, missionaries, soldiers and later historians. Bias of varying degrees characterizes all of these accounts. The racist stereotype of the “naked savage” predominated in early writings; the romanticized noble warrior stereotype emerged sometime later. There has occurred increased attention to Native American history in recent decades, and perhaps a more balanced view emerges from ethnologists and historians today, even if first-hand accounts are long lost. There is also an increasing contribution by contemporary Native American artists and intellectuals to the description and interpretation of Native American history. I believe the content of this paper to be historically accurate, but certainly to some extent the format and conclusions drawn will reflect some flavor of my personality.
In order to draw the Miami Nation into perspective of time and numbers, it will be necessary to compress 20,000 years of New World habitation into minutes. According to one controversial theory, during the last Ice Age, water levels receded and exposed a land bridge across the Bering Strait and nomadic people crossed it on to this continent. In the earlier millennia perhaps the land and climate farther south were more hospitable, and centers of agriculture and population permitted emergence of civilizations such as the Maya, Inca, Aztec and many other tribal nations. As the Ice Age receded north, the climate changed again as hunter gather peoples adapted to the changing environment in North America. A many-centuries-long civilization of Mound Builders also appeared along the Mississippi Valley. Examples of the Adena and Hopewell cultures can be found in Indiana, as close as sixty miles south of Fort Wayne.
Current-day estimates of the New World native population at the time Columbus arrived vary widely. If one accepts a figure of 20 million, it is estimated that only one or two million of the total lived north of Mexico in what is United States, Canada and the Artic. They were comprised of several hundreds of tribes and a like number of languages. Similar environmental conditions elicited common adaptive responses and thus defined cultures with shared characteristics among all the tribes within a given geographical area. For example, the Great Plains area was sparsest and became more populated only after the Spaniards introduction of the horse and with the displacement of eastern tribes by white settlements. The Eastern Woodland culture area includes all of the United States east of the Mississippi River, inclusive of the Great Lakes region and the home of the Miamis.
At the time of initial contact by French explorers in the late 1600s the Miami Tribe occupied the region lying west of the southern end of Lake Michigan. By the turn of the century the Miamis had migrated to the southeast, in part to secure a more favorable position with respect to competing British and French fur trade interests and partly in response to hostile neighbors. To be continued…