In an effort to increase awareness of Native American affairs, a special panel discussion event took place Thursday afternoon and evening inside Indiana University Kokomo’s Kresge Auditorium.

The event — titled “Kokomo Native Project: Heritage and Homeland” and sponsored by numerous local organizations — featured delegates from several of Indiana’s Native Tribes, including Diane Hunter from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, John Warren from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, and Michael Pace of the Delaware Tribe of Indians; as well as Kokomo resident and Choctaw Nation member Sally Tuttle, representing the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission.

“Our goal is an honest view of the past,” local history writer Gil Porter told the crowd before introducing the panelists. “Today, we will learn from all these tribes that call Indiana home. Notice I used the word call in the present tense because Indian history was not lost. It was paused, and today, we press play.”

For generations, many Native American Indians — mostly from the Miami Nation — called this area of Indiana home.

However, in the years following the Revolutionary War, tribes began to cede their land to incoming settlers, eventually leading to the creation of the Great Miami Reserve, an area of about 1,200 square miles that essentially represented the last place in Indiana that Native Americans could freely live.

But then in September 1846, the government came for that land as well, Hunter told the audience.

“The U.S. Army came to our villages and started rounding us up,” she said. “They took us to a prison camp in Peru, and then they loaded us up on canal boats on the Wabash and Erie Canal and took us by canal away from our homes.”

Hunter continued to detail the trek the Miamis took too, first through Fort Wayne and into Ohio and eventually down to Cincinnati, where they boarded steamboats that took them along the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, eventually ending up in Kansas City, Missouri.

“We then went another 50 miles over land to our new reservation on Sugar Creek in what is today Kansas,” Hunter noted. “Now, there were seven deaths during the journey, and six of them were children. … After we arrived, at least another 23 died in the following weeks.

“It was a cold, hard winter in Kansas,” Hunter added. “But the next spring, we started making it our home. … But 20 years later, the U.S. government wanted us to remove again. This time, they asked us to remove to Indian territory in northeastern Oklahoma.”

That’s why it’s called the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Hunter said, though much of its heritage is right here in central Indiana.

But Thursday’s panel was not just to highlight the tragic past associated with Native American removal, organizers said.

It was also a chance to educate the public about Native Americans today.

“Everybody teaches about the history, and they think of us native people as part of the history,” Tuttle said. “But what about us today? … For instance, so many people don’t realize that we have a government that takes care of our people. They don’t realize that in our government, we have agencies, a council, healthcare. The tribes are a functioning government of their own. So I want people to just take us out of the history books and let people know we exist today right here in Kokomo.”

Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore, who was in attendance Thursday night, shared a similar sentiment.

The fourth great-grandson of Miami Principal Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville and the first Kokomo mayor with Miami ancestry, Moore said he hoped people who attended Thursday’s panel discussion walked away with a little bit more understanding of the culture and heritage of Native Americans, both past and present.

“It was just a great opportunity to take the history of Kokomo a little further back than just our automotive heritage,” he said. “… To have representatives from three federally recognized tribal nations come to Kokomo to share their stories, I think was just an incredible opportunity.

“As proud as everyone is and that we have been of our automotive heritage, that we like to embrace it and promote it, I think it’s time to weave the Native American heritage into the tapestry that is our story as well.”

React to this story:


Trending Video