KOKOMO, Ind. — For a cultural group to endure, its language, history, and stories must be passed down through the generations.
Indiana University Kokomo partnered with the Kokomo Early History Learning Center to focus on the hidden history of Indiana’s native people, hosting a panel discussion featuring representatives of three area tribes.
“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. In addition, Kokomo resident Sally Tuttle, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, spoke as a representative of the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission, of which she is co-founder.
Historian Gil Porter said the goal was to share the true story of the Native Americans who first lived in what is now called Kokomo, told by its people, 175 years after the removal of the Miami people from the area that had been their ancestral homeland.
“Indian history was not lost, but it was paused. Today, we press play,” he said. “This is the first time our city has said this history is important enough for us to get rid of the myths and legends of the past.”
Hunter noted that the land that is currently Howard County — including IU Kokomo — was part of the Great Miami Reserve, the last communal land owned by the Miami Tribe of Indians.
“We had lived in Indiana and surrounding areas since time immemorial,” she said, before Europeans started coming. The French were first, and then, after the American Revolution, the Americans began coming west, claiming the land as the Northwest Territory. That led to war, and then a treaty in which the Miami ceded most of what was Ohio and portions of Indiana.
“That was going to be good. We were going to have peace, and the 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 given away all communal land other than the Great Miami Reserve. In 1840, they signed away that land, and promised to be gone within five years.
They delayed as long as possible, and in September 1846, the U.S. Army came to the Miami village, rounded up the people, and removed them to a reservation in Kansas. Seven people died along the way, and 23 more were lost shortly after their arrival. Twenty years later, they moved on again, this time to a reservation in Oklahoma.
“That is why we are the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, even though Indiana is the center of our ancestral homelands,” she said. Hunter noted that a few families who owned land were able to stay, and others came back later. Of those few families, there are now about 800 Miami in Indiana.
The tribes function as their own governments, and provide services to their people, funded with federal money and tribal economic development ventures including casinos, which also provide jobs. They offer 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 world language, available for anyone to learn. This is critical, as tribal languages have begun to die out.
“I look at language as a way to live,” he said, “Once you learn the language, it changes the psychology of how you look at the world, and how you look at each other.”
Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke appreciated the panelists’ insight.
“Thank you for helping us learn more,” she said. “We see ourselves as stewards of place, with the responsibility to lift this region educationally, economically, culturally, and in the arts. This is another chance for us to partner with our community to expand knowledge.”