What is the Miami Tribe?

Brenda Scott

The Miami tribe is a Native American group originally from the area south of Lake Michigan in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. The name Miami is used in several places in the United States, such as in Florida, but those names are derived from other Indian terms, and not from the Miami Indians. It is believed that the tribe’s name came from a word meaning “people of the peninsula.”

Miami Indians used to inhabit Ohio.
Miami Indians used to inhabit Ohio.

Members of the Miami tribe lived in villages in the woods and along the rivers. They built huts covered with bark and woven mats and fashioned canoes from single trees, usually butternut. Some of the largest villages were placed at strategic points along the rivers, providing an ideal setting for controlling the trade routes of various neighboring tribes. In addition to trade, hunting and fishing, the Miami were farmers whose primary crop was corn. During the winter, the people would follow the buffalo and migrate to the prairie lands south of their settlements.

George Washington sent out a militia to confront the Miami tribe warriors.
George Washington sent out a militia to confront the Miami tribe warriors.

The Miami tribe was divided into clans, but unlike many tribes who had matrilineal clans, membership in a Miami clan was based upon the father. Marriage within the clan was forbidden, and the children belonged to the father’s clan, even if the marriage ended. Each clan had a hereditary chief who acted as a diplomat and was not allowed to join war parties. War chiefs were elected to lead the tribe into battle.

The first European contact the Miami tribe had was with French trappers, and they maintained friendly relationships with the French, often siding with them during times of war. As a defense against their enemies, the tribes who comprised the Iroquois Confederacy, the Miami banded together with allied tribes to form the Miami Confederacy. When the Iroquois tribes supported the British during the French and Indian wars, the Miami promptly joined the French troops.

The loyalty of the Miami tribe was not always consistent, and they tended to support the side which was most advantageous to their cause. In 1763, they fought with the French against the British in Pontiac’s Rebellion, and then they joined the British to fight against the colonists in the American Revolution. Even after the Americans won, the Miami joined together under a war chief named Little Turtle to attack the colonists in an attempt to stop further white settlement.

Little Turtle was a military genius who used decoys, covert attacks and developed many guerrilla war methods that are still used by modern armies. When the death toll of settlers rose to over 1500, George Washington sent out a militia to confront the Miami tribe warriors. Little Turtle led his men to defeat not only this militia but also a second, larger command. In response, a unit of over 3000 soldiers was drawn together and trained to put an end to the conflict.

Little Turtle recognized that the white settlers were not going to be driven from the land and that this larger, better trained force would devastate his people. He counseled for peace, but his advice was not taken and the warriors elected a new war chief. As Little Turtle had predicted, the Indians were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timers in 1790 and forced to sign the Treaty of Greenville, in which they ceded most of their lands and agreed to move further west into Indiana.

Over the next few decades, the Miami tribe lost most of its land in Indiana and was eventually moved to tribal lands in Oklahoma, which is now the home of the Miami Nation; the only federally recognized Miami tribe. Approximately 150 Miami natives were allowed to remain in Indiana. There they gradually lost claim to their native lands and in 1897 they lost their official recognition and special status with the government. In spite of this, the descendants of the Miami who stayed in Indiana have formed the Miami Nation of Indiana.

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