Miami Indians

One of the most powerful tribes of its day, the Miami Indians lived in areas of Indiana, Illinois, and southern Michigan when first met by Europeans.

They moved into the Maumee Valley in Ohio around 1700.

The Miami traded with many other tribes in the Great Lakes region, and used dugout canoes and sleds pulled by dogs, called travois, to carry trade goods and travel from one area to another.

Miami Culture

Miami comes from the Miami-Illinois word Myaamia, which means “allies.”
Miami Indian people speak English today. In the past, the Miami spoke their native Miami-Illinois language.

It has this long name because two tribes, the Miami and Illinois tribes, spoke the same language with different accents–just like Americans and Australians both speak English but the pronunciation is slightly different.

Early French commentators believed that the Illinois and Miami came from a common ancestral tribe that split in the late prehistoric period. They were living as distinct, separate tribes when the French first encountered them in the 1600s.

The Miami-Illinois Indian language is not spoken fluently anymore. However, the Miami and Peoria tribes are working together to teach their children the language again.

The Miami tribe resided in oval, reed houses in permanent villages, where their life centered around farming corn, squash, and beans and hunting local animals, particularly buffalo.

They used rings of fire to drive large game animals towards hunters, and also to clear the land for farming and better grazing for the deer, elk, and bison they hunted.

Each village also had a large wooden council house.
Miami Indian men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families.

Miami women were the farmers, took care of the children and performed most camp duties . Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork, music, and traditional medicine.

Miami women wore skirts with leggings. Miami men wore breechcloths. The Miamis did wear shirts in cool weather, but even in wintertime, Miami men didn’t wear long pants. Miami Indians wore leather moccasins on their feet.

The Miami didn’t wear Native headdresses like the Sioux. Sometimes they wore a beaded headband with a few red feathers in it. Miami women wore their hair long, sometimes braided or tied in a bun.

Miami men usually shaved their heads in the Mohawk style and wore a porcupine roach.

In the past, the Miami tribe was ruled by two chiefs. One was a village chief, chosen by the leaders of the Miami clans, and the other was a war chief, chosen by the other warriors. 

Only men could be Miami Indian chiefs in the past, but women had important roles overseeing religious festivals and negotiating peace treaties.

Miami History

The Miami traded with all the other tribes of the Great Lakes region, and sometimes with tribes who lived further away. Miami people especially liked to trade buffalo hides to the Iroquois for shell beads.

The Miami sometimes fought with the Sioux and Chickasaw, but in general, they got along very well with other Indian tribes. In fact, in the late 1700’s the Miami tribe led a coalition of Great Lakes tribes including the Ojibway, Potawatomi, and Shawnee.

During the 1740s, the Miami allied with the French to push British traders out of their region. When the French lost to the British in the French and Indian Wars, the Miami moved to Indiana in the hopes of avoiding further conflict with the British.

As French trading posts turned into British forts, many Miami natives moved to present-day Indiana to avoid further battles with the more powerful British.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, the Miami allied with the British and continued to fight against the colonists following the British defeat.
Little Turtle was a great leader of the Miamis, with affiliations to the Eel River tribe.

He helped to lead a force of Miami and other American Indians to victory over two United States armies. They defeated the army of General Josiah Harmar in 1790 (Harmar’s Defeat) and the army of General Arthur St. Clair in 1791 (St. Clair’s Defeat).

General Anthony Wayne defeated the Miamis and other American Indians with Ohio lands at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.

The Miamis, along with other American Indians living in Ohio, were forced to surrender most of their Ohio lands with the signing of the Treaty of Greeneville.

In 1818, the United States forced the Miami to give up their last reservation in Ohio. Many of the displaced Ohio Miami settled in Indiana, but, once more, the U.S. federal government removed some of them to Kansas during the 1850s, while others were permitted to remain in Indiana.

By the 1820s, they had ceded all of their remaining territory and first moved to Kansas and then to Oklahoma in the 1860s.

Miami Tribes Today:

Miami Tribe of Oklahoma (Federally Recognized)

Miami Nation of Indiana (Unrecognized)

Famous Miami Indians