“The Miami Nation,” was presented to the Fort Wayne Quest Club by William R. Clark on October 29, 1993: Village and band chiefs were generally hereditarily determined. The tribal chief was selected at Tribal Council by representatives of the villages and clans. Tribal councils were always held at Kekionga after 1712, i.e. here at the Three Rivers. In addition to the principal or civil chief of the tribe, a separate War Chief was selected, based upon demonstrated bravery and success in battle. He assumed authority only during time of conflict. Decisions were made by consensus at Tribal Council and not by authority of any single chief. Villages exercised considerable independence, a fact that often worked to Native Americans’ disadvantage in matters of both war and diplomacy.
I will not dwell upon the many specific aspects of pre-contact Miami culture which were similar to that of other Eastern Woodland Indians. In focusing upon the marked differences between white European and Native American cultures, early white observers failed to emphasize those which obviously were the same. In the first instance, the Native Americans were human beings, and thus the possessors of all the expected vices and virtues. They loved their children, respected their elders and mourned their dead. They acknowledged a creation and force beyond themselves and contemplated a life after death. They respected fairness and practiced generosity. Special events prompted prescribed rites or ceremonies. In their leisure they feasted, danced and participated in games. What then about the Miami’s was unique? They are described by one account as being somewhat shorter, stockier and lighter skinned than their neighbors. Tattooing was described at the time of initial contact with Europeans as being widely practiced. The artist George Winter of Logansport traveled among the Miami and Potawatomi in the 1830s and 40s. No tattoos are depicted among his many drawings, and I conclude the practice was abandoned during the preceding century of acculturation. The Miamis were also characterized as wearing less clothing than their neighbors, perhaps in part for the display of their tattoos. Several quotes of early explorers may be of interest. Cadillac wrote: The villages of the Miamis are well built people, good warriors, and very active. They are real and true greyhounds. They harass the Iroquois greatly, and always utterly defeat them. The Miamis are numerous nations and are divided into several villages, and on account of the jealousy of the men of greater consequence among them, they cannot agree on hardly anything and practice warfare against nearly all other villages. But, inasmuch as they are divided, their united enemies destroy them so often that, unless they unite, they run the risk of being completely exterminated. If this happened it would be a great pity, for they are a worthy people, fairly mild and civil, and more inclined, I think, to listen to the voice of the gospel…Another description came from the French Commandant of Detroit in that same year: The Miamis are sixty leagues from Lake Erie who number more than 400 men; they are all shapely and well tattooed. They have an abundance of women. They are very industrious, and raise a kind of Indian corn which is unlike that of local Detroit tribes. Their corn is white, of the same size as the other, with much finer husks and much whiter flour-they are fond of gaming and dancing, and mainly occupied with these. The women are well covered, but the men wear very little covering, and have their bodies tattooed all over. To be continued…
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