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ETHNONYMS: Miamiouek, Maumee, Oumami, Twightwees


Identification. The Miami are an Algonkian people, closely related to the Illinois. They inhabited the area to the south and west of Lake Michigan in mid-continental North America when Europeans first entered the region in the late 1600s. They subsequently moved south into Indiana and were finally removed to Oklahoma in the mid-1800s. Six Miami subgroups were the Wea, Piankashaw, Pepikokia, Kilatika, Mengakonkia, and Atchatchakangouen, each with many variations in spelling.

Location. Throughout their history the Miami have lived in temperate forest and prairie areas of the midwestern United States. Fish, mollusks, and migratory wild-fowl are plentiful on the rivers, and deer, elk, bear, and numerous small mammals thrive in the rich deciduous forests. Bison were also common on the prairie peninsula to the west and south of Lake Michigan prior to European settlement. There are two main groups of Miami today: the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, recognized by the U.S. government, and the Miami Nation in Indiana.

Demography. In the late 1600s it was estimated that there were about five thousand Miami. Rapid decreases in population followed American colonization of the Illinois country in the late 1700s, and the recorded Miami population had fallen below one hundred by 1890. Today, there are several thousand Miami registered at the tribal office in Peru, Indiana (although they are largely acculturated into the White population) , and several thousand others listed as members of the Miami Tribe in Oklahoma.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Miami language is classified in the lower tier of the Central Algonkian linguistic group, and is closely related to the Illinois language, the two having only slight dialectical differences. The Miami language has been considered extinct since about 1965, although some Miami still employ a limited vocabulary and attempts have been made to revive the language as part of a recent cultural revival effort.

History and Cultural Relations

The Miami evolved out of the prehistoric Fisher and Huber cultures of the southern Lake Michigan region. In the late 1660s fear of Iroquois raids prompted them to move west of the Mississippi with the Illinois people. At the same time a group of Miami took up residence with a large group of similarly displaced people around Green Bay, Wisconsin. These Green Bay Miami were visited frequently by Jesuit missionaries during the 1670s. In the 1680s the Miami began to move back to the southern end of Lake Michigan. This trend southward continued, and by 1750 large numbers of Miami peoples could be found near the present-day Indiana cities of Fort Wayne, Lafayette, and Vincennes.

The Miami were allied with the English during the American Revolution, and some (most notably Little Turtle and his followers) continued to fight the Americans until the Greenville Treaty was signed in 1795. By 1820 most Miamis had sold their land to American settlers and moved to Reservations in Missouri. The majority of the remaining Miami were forcibly removed from Indiana in 1846 and resettled in Kansas, moving finally to Oklahoma in the 1870s to live with other Miami and Illinois people who had settled there.


Summer agricultural villages ranged in population from Several hundred to perhaps several thousand people, consisting of some dozen or more nuclear and extended family groups. Villages were typically located near a river and often close to open prairie. Villages were frequently palisaded and were apparently kept immaculately clean. In some cases the Miami shared a single palisaded village with another group. Within the palisade were circular or elliptical houses for each nuclear or extended family. These were fashioned from tightly woven reed mats laid over each other on a wooden frame. The Doorways were covered with bison skins, which were also used to line the floor. A central hearth provided light, heat, and fire for cooking, the smoke escaping from a hole in the roof. In the center of the village was a larger structure that served as the village chief's house and as a meeting place. Agricultural fields were located outside of the palisade, but within easy walking distance. Winter camps consisted of one or more Nuclear and extended family groups, probably never having a population of more than a few dozen people. Winter camps were distributed around Miami territory and may have been moved frequently. Houses in winter camps were similar to those in summer villages.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Simple hortiCulture and hunting provided the basis of Miami subsistence. Crops grown included maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, melons, and tobacco. Fields were cleared by the slash-and-burn technique, and planting was done using digging sticks and hoes fashioned of stone or bison scapulae. Nuts and fruits were also collected from the forests and prairies. Deer and bison were major sources of meat, although small game were trapped or hunted with bow and arrow. Soon after planting, usually in early June, the majority of a Miami village would leave in a group to hunt bison on the plains. This communal hunt usually lasted five weeks or more. Bison were hunted by ambush or fire drive. The meat from this hunt was used for subsistence until the village's crops matured. Following the harvest in the fall, families would leave the village alone or in small groups to hunt deer and small game in the forests during the winter, although some families remained in the village and hunted in its immediate vicinity. The Miami kept dogs as companions and sacrificial animals.

Today, the Miami are completely acculturated and work as farmers, factory workers, and businessmen.

Industrial Arts. Clothing was fashioned from deer or bison skin, and was often dyed black, yellow, or red. Bison hair was also woven into bags and belts. Cooking and storage pots were made of fired clay. Bowls and spoons were carved from wood. Arrows, axes, hoes, and pipes were fashioned from stone by either chipping or grinding.

Trade. With the coming of Europeans, some Miami became specialists in the fur trade. But trade between the Miami and surrounding groups, even some geographically quite distant, had always been common. Items traded were generally nonlocal raw materials such as copper, obsidian, and unusual chert and stone.

Division of Labor. There was a marked division of labor by sex. Women were expected to take care of the house (including making and repairing the reed mats, supplying water and wood for the fire, and cleaning), make clothing for the family, prepare game that the men brought in (including hide preparation), gather wild plant foods (such as berries, nuts, and roots) and make the baskets and clay pots with which to gather them, weed and cultivate the fields, prepare meals, and take care of children. Men, on the other hand, spent most of their time hunting, warring, gaming, or discussing village matters.

Land Tenure. Until formal land tenure was established by the U.S. government, the control of land was informal. Each village used the land that surrounded it and moved when the land became unmanageable or unproductive.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic kinship unit was the nuclear family consisting of a man, his wife (or wives), and their children. A more inclusive unit was the clan, whose members were determined patrilineally. Clans were exogamous, and their names included the bear, deer, elk, crane, snake, and acorn. More inclusive than the clan was a moiety division in each Miami village.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terms followed the Omaha system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygynous marriages were accepted if a man could support more than one wife, but marriages were more often monogamous. Marriage was clan exogamous. Marriages could either be arranged or decided upon by the individuals, but all had to be approved by the individuals' families. Brideprice payments were made by the husband's family to the wife's. If the payment was accepted, the individuals were considered married, although further presentations would be made by both families. Less formal marriage arrangements were also common. Couples were expected to set up their own homes once married, usually near the husband's family. Divorce was common and often resulted from adultery on the part of the wife.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family of a husband, wife, and children formed the basic domestic unit. They shared a house, fire, food, and household chores. The nuclear family might be extended by the addition of co-wives, parents, grandparents, and perhaps other relatives.

Inheritance. There were apparently no formal rules of Inheritance, although a person could be ceremonially adopted to fill the place of an individual who died, and this person would acquire the dead individual's possessions.

Socialization. Mothers gave birth in seclusion and remained secluded with the infant for several weeks. Most of a Miami child's life was spent in close proximity to its mother, often bound in a cradle board. The Miami were concerned and affectionate parents and allowed their children great Freedom. At puberty, both boys and girls secluded themselves and fasted, seeking contact with a guardian spirit. The onset of menses apparently marked a girl's becoming a woman, but a boy had to go on at least one war party before he could paint his face red, the symbol of male adulthood. Some boys did not follow the male pattern of maturation, but adopted the women's instead, becoming berdaches who were thought to have great spiritual power and knowledge.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social and Political Organization. Village leaders were also the heads of the various village clans. The village chief was the head of the highest ranking clan. Although clan heads and village chiefs were generally recognized as such Because of their wisdom, respect, and speaking ability, the sons of chiefs usually became chiefs themselves. Village chiefs were responsible for day-to-day affairs of the village, settling disputes and maintaining relationships with other groups. Miami village chiefs were paralleled by war chiefs, who organized and carried out raids on other groups. War chiefs were recognized solely according to their success in war. If a war chief organized a raid that failed, his status as a chief would be threatened or lost. Members of raiding parties could not be conscripted, but had to volunteer, so a war chief's ability to conduct raids was dependent on the trust Miami men had in him and his ability to conduct a raid successfully.

Social Control. Internal disputes were handled informally by the families involved or by the village council of clan chiefs. Gossip and the threat of sorcery were probably strong means of social control, although some crimes, such as murder and adultery, carried severe punishments.

Conflict. Intergroup warfare could be initiated for a variety of reasons, from revenge for murder to the desire of young men to gain prestige. The decision to go to war was decided upon by the war chiefs, and once decided, the initiating chief would put together a raiding party of perhaps twelve men. This party would attack a chosen village, attempt to kill one or more men or to take them prisoner, and then retreat quickly. A raid was successful if no one in the raiding party was killed or taken prisoner, and it was considered a great victory if an enemy was killed or taken prisoner. Since war chiefs could lose their power and prestige if too many of their men were killed, Miami war chiefs were very cautious. Raids were often called off just outside an enemy village, and retreat after a raid was always well planned and swift. Prisoners were treated with extreme cruelty, although they could be adopted into the group to take the place of someone who had died or been killed. More frequently, however, prisoners were slowly tortured to death and were sometimes eaten.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Miami religion centered around Individual and group attempts to gain power from spirits known as manitous. The Miami believed that manitous roamed the world and could take the form of humans, animals, and Perhaps even plants or nuts. The source of the manitou's power was known as the kitchi manitou and was often equated with the sun, although the kitchi manitou was apparently not considered to be animate. From youth, women and particularly men were instructed to seclude themselves, fast, and try to contact a manitou in a dream. Once contacted, a manitou became the individual's guardian spirit, giving the person power in return for respect and sacrifices. Feasts were given and public and private sacrifices of food or tobacco were made to gain power from or appease specific manitous.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans were considered to be closer to manitous than ordinary people and could gain power from them either to heal or to kill. Shamans also participated in the Midewiwin and in unabashed displays of their strength: they would fight and kill each other using supernatural power to throw bones, shells, and other charmed objects into the adversary and then try to bring the dead back to life.

Ceremonies. The Calumet Dance was held to gain power from manitous, usually before going to war. It provided a means to publicly offer tobacco to manitous by the members of a raiding party. The calumet was a stone pipe with a long wooden stem, decorated with paint and feathers. Members of the raiding party would make the calumet "dance" in their hands and then smoke it and offer the smoke to a manitou. "Striking the pole" was also done by members of a raiding party. Each would strike a post with his hatchet or war club, and relate a tale of his own bravery, dancing between the tales. Feasts were also given for manitous, particularly before going to war. There were two types of feasts: one, which was a simple dinner with speeches and dancing rituals, and another in which all the food, frequently in copious amounts, had to be consumed before the feastgoers could leave.

Arts. Miami men were tattooed head to foot, and women were tattooed on their arms, face, and chest. The Miami used paint or painted porcupine quills to decorate their clothes and shoes. Music and song accompanied dances, and dance was probably considered both a form of entertainment and a way of showing respect to a manitou.

Medicine. The Miami employed a wide variety of plant materials in making remedies for common ailments, which apparently provided effective treatments for cuts, fractures, and even arrow and gunshot wounds. Shamans were called in if these remedies failed. The shaman healed by using his Supernatural power to expel or pull illness out of an individual. Often this illness was embodied as a small bone or shell which the shaman pretended to physically suck out of the sick person.

Death and Afterlife. Ritualized lamentations and weeping accompanied a friend's or relative's death, and women whose husbands died were required to follow a number of strict taboos. The body of the dead individual was cleaned and decorated, wrapped in skins, and placed on a scaffold or in a tree, sometimes with small presents or food. After the interment a game might be played or a dance performed that the Individual had particularly liked, but the body was apparently not visited again. The Miami believed that upon death Individuals enter another world, where they find themselves walking down a road. The dead are tempted as they walk, and they must cross several obstacles before reaching a beautiful Country where there is great abundance and everyone is happy.


Anson, Burt (1970). The Miami Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Callender, Charles. (1978). "Miami." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger, 681-689. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Kinietz, Vernon (1965). Indians of the Western Great Lakes, 1615-1760. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Trowbridge, Charles (1938). Meearmeer Traditions, edited by Vernon Kinietz. University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, Occasional Contributions, no. 7. Ann Arbor.


Miami (Indians)

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MIAMI (INDIANS). In the 1670s, the Miamis first encountered the French in Wisconsin, where the tribe had fled to avoid the Iroquois, but by the 1740s they had returned to their homeland in the Maumee and Wabash valleys of Indiana. There they divided into four separate bands. The Miamis proper occupied the upper Maumee Valley, including the portage between the Wabash and Maumee rivers. The Eel Rivers maintained villages on the Wabash tributary, while the Ouiatenons or "Weas" dominated the central Wabash valley from towns near the mouth of the Tippecanoe. The Piankashaws established villages along the lower Wabash, near modern Vincennes.

In the colonial period, the Miamis were allied with the French, but between 1748 and 1752, dissident Miamis led by La Demoiselle (or Memeskia) established a pro-British trading village on Ohio's Miami River until French allied Indians forced them back to the Wabash. The Miamis supported the French during the Seven Years' War but were divided between the Americans and British during the American Revolution. During the 1790s, the Miami chief Little Turtle led the initial Indian resistance to American settlement north of the Ohio but made peace with the Americans following the Treaty of Greenville (1795).

Successful traders, the Miamis intermarried with the Creole French and adopted much of their culture. They were removed from Indiana to Kansas in the 1840s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma resided near tribal offices at Miami, Oklahoma, while the Indiana Miamis, although not "recognized" by the federal government, maintained tribal offices at Peru, Indiana.


Anson, Bert. The Miami Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Kohn, Rita, and W. Lynwood Montell, eds. Always a People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland Nations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Rafert, Stewart. The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654–1994. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1996.

R. DavidEdmunds

See alsoTribes: Northwestern .