Myaamiaataweenki Eekincikoonihkiinki Eeyoonki Aapisaataweenki: A Miami Language Digital Tool for Language Reclamation

Daryl Baldwin, David J. Costa, and Douglas Troy

Introduction

The Myaamiaki (Miami People) are an aboriginal people historically located around the southern Great Lakes region of North America with primary village locations along the Wabash River Valley in what is today north-central Indiana. The language spoken by this group is referred to as myaamiaataweenki (Miami Language). The Myaamiaki spoke a dialect of the same language spoken by the various subtribes of the Illinois (Inoka), in particular the Peoria and the Kaskaskia. Today, linguists group together these different dialects as the Miami-Illinois language.1

The Myaamiaki signed 13 treaties that were ratified with the United States Federal Government between the years of 1795 and 1867.2 The 1840 treaty included provisions for the removal of the Myaamiaki from their traditional land base in Indiana. The Miami Tribe, defined by these treaties as a legal entity, was militarily forced in October 1846 to move to a reservation in the unorganized territory, which later became Kansas. Several families were exempt from that removal and remained in the homelands of Indiana as absentee members of the tribal nation for a period of time. In 1937 these Indiana descendants organized themselves separately under a State 501(c)(3) non-profit organization known today as the Miami Nation of Indians of the State of Indiana, Inc.

From 1846 to 1873 the Miami Nation remained on its new reservation lands in Kansas until a second removal to Indian Territory (what would become the state of Oklahoma in 1907) occurred between the years of 1873 and 1884, again leaving some individuals and families behind in Kansas. The fragmentation of the Myaamiaki through forced removal, the government’s allotment of tribal lands, and the boarding school era all hindered the ability of the Myaamiaki to maintain communally based activities, including language use. By the early 20th century, myaamiaataweenki fell into disuse, and by the mid-20th century few if any fluent speakers could be found. It should also be noted that the descendants of what have historically been called the Illinois people are today represented by the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. The Peoria dialect of the Miami-Illinois language appears to have lost its last fluent speakers at roughly the same time as the Myaamia dialect, in the mid 1900s.

During the late 1980s, graduate student David J. Costa began inquiring about myaamiaataweenki as a potential dissertation topic in linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. Costa’s initial inquiries showed that little was known about the language and that few if any speakers were still living. Flowever, prompted by curiosity to describe this unknown Algonquian language, Costa’s search would uncover two and a half centuries of documentation, which became the basis for his doctoral dissertation.3

By the mid 1990s the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma became interested in supporting community efforts toward language revitalization as a result of several families initiating home learning efforts. This was a significant step, since for several years the language had been labeled “extinct” or “dead,” and it took a great deal of work to reverse this unfortunate perception among tribal citizens. The first tribally supported community effort came in 1997 with an unpublished Myaamia phrasebook, the result of an Administration for Native American (ANA) Language grant awarded to the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.4 During this period of time Costa continued his work reconstructing the grammar, phonology and lexicon of Miami-Illinois, leading to his completed dissertation in 1994.5

The Miami Tribe and Miami University, located at Oxford, Ohio, have shared a long-standing relationship that dates back to the 1970s. Miami Tribe students began attending Miami University as a result of a scholarship program created in 1991 called the Miami Indian Heritage Award.6 Through this mutually supportive relationship, tribal and university leaders sensed an ideal opportunity to advance much- needed language research and development. In the fall of 2000, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma approached their allies at Miami University to develop a language research project. In 2001, both the Tribe and University agreed to support the development of the Myaamia Project, a teaching and research unit within the University with emphasis on language research and cultural education. The project has evolved and expanded over time to become the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma’s “research arm,” and now collaborates with multiple departments and programs on campus, including the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, our collaborator on MIDA. In recognition of this growth, the Myaamia Project transitioned into the Myaamia Center within the University.

This background and history is all significant in understanding the evolutionary process that has led to current efforts to digitize, analyze, store and make accessible online the vast linguistic archives available for the myaamiaataweenki. Relationship building is always at the core of our work, including any research or technologies we develop.

 
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