KOKOMO, Indiana— For a cultural group to endure, its language, history and stories must be passed down from generation to generation.
Indiana University Kokomo partnered with the Kokomo Early History Learning Center to focus on Indiana’s hidden Native history, hosting a panel discussion with representatives from three tribes in the area.
“Kokomo Native Project: Heritage and Homeland,” included Diane Hunter, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma; Michael Pace, Delaware Tribe of Indiana; and John Warren, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Additionally, Sally Tuttle, a Kokomo resident and member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, spoke as a representative of the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission, of which she is a co-founder.
Historian Gil Porter said the goal was to share the true story of Native Americans who first lived in what is now called Kokomo, as told by its people, 175 years after Miami residents were removed. of the region that had been their ancestral homeland.
“India’s history has not been lost, but it has been interrupted. Today we press play,” he said. “This is the first time our city has declared this history important enough for us to shed the myths and legends of the past.”
Hunter noted that the land that is now Howard County — including IU Kokomo — was part of the Great Miami Reserve, the last communal land owned by the Miami Tribe of Indians.
“We’ve been living in and around Indiana since time immemorial,” she said, before the Europeans started coming. The French were first, then after the American Revolution the Americans started coming west, claiming the land as the Northwest Territory. This led to war and then to a treaty in which Miami ceded most of what was Ohio and parts of Indiana.
“It was going to be good. We were going to have peace, and Americans would have their land, we would have our land, and we could be good neighbors,” Hunter said. But more settlers came, the Miami ceded more land, and by 1838 had ceded all communal land other than the large Miami reservation. In 1840 they ceded this land and promised to leave within five years.
They delayed as long as possible, and in September 1846 the American army arrived in the village of Miami, rounded up the people, and took them to a reservation in Kansas. Seven people died en route and another 23 were lost soon after arrival. Twenty years later, they moved on again, this time to a reservation in Oklahoma.
“That’s why we are the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, even though Indiana is the center of our ancestral lands,” she said. Hunter noted that a few families who owned land were able to stay and others returned later. Of those few families, there are now about 800 Miamis in Indiana.
The tribes operate as their own governments and provide services to their people, funded by federal funds and tribal economic development enterprises, including casinos, which also provide employment. They provide health care, mental health services, educational opportunities and scholarships.
Warren noted that some public high schools, as well as universities, offer Native American languages as a world language, accessible to all. This is essential, as tribal languages have begun to disappear.
“I see language as a way of life,” he said, “once you learn language, it changes the psychology of how you look at the world and how you look at yourself.”
Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke appreciated the insight of the panelists.
“Thank you for helping us find out more,” she said. “We see ourselves as stewards of the place, with a responsibility to advance this region educationally, economically, culturally and artistically. This is another chance for us to partner with our community to expand knowledge.
Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.