How neepwaantiinki has led to 50 years of partnership between Miami University and the Miami Tribe
Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma first met in 1972 when Chief Forest Olds, having heard about a university in Ohio that shared a name with his tribal nation, showed up on campus unexpectedly during a visit to Cincinnati. What came of that surprise encounter is a nearly 50-year-long partnership between the two Miamis - one they plan to commemorate throughout 2022.
"As we are entering into 2022, we really wanted to make sure that we are looking back on everything that's been accomplished over the last 50 years, celebrating where we are today, and then thinking about what this relationship will look like moving into the future," says Kara Strass, director of tribe relations for the Myaamia Center, a partnership between the university and the tribe to promote the Myaamia (Miami) language and culture through research, education and outreach.
Strass says the university is planning a year-long commemoration, kicking off Jan. 28-29, 2022 at the tribe's Winter Gathering in Miami, Okla., where the nation is headquartered. The university has been sending staff, faculty and students to that annual gathering for roughly two decades to meet with and learn from the people there.
"We want to have events in every aspect of campus life," says Strass, listing academic presentations, webinars, student life events, athletics and exhibits. Three "signature" events are planned: the Winter Gathering kick-off; the biennial Myaamiaki Conference, which focuses on all aspects of tribe-related research; and a week-long cavalcade of events in the fall.
The commemoration has several names. In Myaamia, it will be weeyaakiteeheeyankwi neepwaantiiyankwi - "we celebrate learning from each other" - or more simply, "50 Years of Neepwaantiinki Learning from Each Other."
It's important to examine the past while crafting the path forward, Strass notes, because it shows how far the relationship has come.
"In 1972 when this relationship began, there were no speakers of the Myaamia language. The tribe at that point was struggling to hold onto their language, their culture, to strengthen their tribal sovereignty. Over the last 50 years, Miami University has started to create space on Miami University's campus where the tribe can do work that benefits itself, but in so doing, it's also teaching Miami students, faculty and staff about a contemporary tribal nation.
"It's a relationship that's so unique we don't know of any other that is like this."