KOKOMO, Ind. — The Indiana University Kokomo campus — as well as all of Howard County — sits on land that was once part of the Great Miami Reserve, the last communal land of the Miami Tribe of Indians.
Nearly 200 years after a portion of the reserve became the county seat of Richardville, which was later renamed Howard County, more than 2,000 people in the county can identify as Native American.
Area residents can learn more about this less-known part of local history, with panel discussions planned at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, April 21, in Kresge Auditorium at IU Kokomo.
Delegates from Indiana’s Native tribes will honor the history and heritage of Native people past, present, and future, at “Kokomo Native Project: Heritage and Homeland,” with a reception to follow in Upper Alumni Hall. Both panel discussions are free and open to the public.
Gregory Steel, associate professor of fine arts, said before participating on the planning committee, he was unaware there were so many Native people in the area. With little information readily available, it’s important for the campus to host the panel, to provide more knowledge of this hidden part of local history.
“The goal is to raise awareness about the fact there is a significant Native American population still living with us,” he said. “There is a deeper truth that we are guests on Native land, and we should have some respect and appreciation for that.”
For this first-of-its-kind event, representatives from the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission (INAIAC) will also be attending.
Steel noted that many people learn about Native American culture from movies and television, which provide a Caucasian perspective that is generally inaccurate.
“This really important culture that lives around us is invisible to us,” he said. “We don’t talk to them; we don’t learn from them. I think we have an awful lot to learn from them, particularly the history of Kokomo. It’s time that we start appreciating that we live together, and we have so much to learn from their culture.”
Steel was asked to participate after creating a public sculpture that Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore, a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, named Cecaahkwa Ciipaya. In the Miami language, the name translates to Crane Soul, as the piece depicts a crane — a sacred symbol to the Miami people — rising from the earth and ascending back to its creator.
This event is sponsored by The Kokomo Native Project, an alliance of organizations in Howard County. It includes the City of Kokomo, the Kokomo Early History Learning Center, Inc., the Howard County Historical Society, and IU Kokomo. The Project creates programs and activities in support of INAIAC to educate the community and to help Native people learn more about services and support available to them in north central Indiana.