Talking circle provides Miami Nation a chance to reflect, heal

·3 min read

Sep. 18—John Dunnagan said that when he was a child, he always knew he was a member of the Miami Nation of Indians.

The Miami County resident — who grew up in Wabash County — is a direct descendent of Francis Slocum, a young girl who was kidnapped by the Delaware Indians and discovered decades later living under the name "Maconaquah" in a Miami Indian village near Peru.

And Friday evening along the banks of the Wildcat Creek just north of the Indiana University Kokomo campus, Dunnagan had the opportunity to talk about Slocum and the rest of the Miami Nation of Indians of the State of Indiana (MNI) in a special ceremony sponsored by the Kokomo Native Project.

Friday's presentation — titled "Voices Along the Wildcat" — came in the form of a talking circle, a traditional avenue for Native American storytelling, and organizers say smoke from a nearby fire also helped "spread the stories to the Creator and the rest of the universe."

But the overall purpose of the event was to allow Native Americans in the Howard County area to come together and talk about the history of those in the Miami Nation who stayed behind after the tribe was forcibly removed from the area in the 1840s.

And for Dunnagan, the event was also about simply raising awareness.

"It's about keeping people informed that we're still here," he said. "We never left. Several people here are joining the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma (where many Miamis wound up after their removal), and it's hurting our efforts to an extent. But I'm still one of the people that believe we were always just the same tribe, and we should still be the same tribe."

Local history writer Gil Porter was one of the organizers of Friday's event, and he echoed Dunnagan's sentiments, adding that Friday also provided Native Americans from around the area a chance to just come together and heal.

"It's a lot about the heartache that they've traditionally had," Porter said, referring specially to the Miami Nation. "What an honor to be able to provide a healing opportunity, not just for the Native Americans, but to the community that's been here for so many years. ... This is the time to talk about the healing of that history.

"For 175 years, it was the white version of the story," Porter added. "But we began to recognize a lot of that was wrong and fabricated, and so we worked very hard to correct the story, or to at least provide a new perspective on it. And to do that, we went directly to them (Miami). ... And now, we have the ability to have their voices be heard and have that conversation about the past."

Also in attendance during Friday's presentation was Kokomo resident Sally Tuttle, who is a member of Choctaw Nation and represents the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission.

Tuttle told the Tribune that when she came to Indiana in the 1970s, she felt like Native American tribes in the area did not really have a voice, and so she has spent the last four-plus decades helping them find it.

And when asked what she hoped people that came to Friday's presentation left with, her answer was simple.

"I just want the community to be the participants and own this," she said. "It's not necessarily just the tribe itself, but I also want the community to come together and celebrate that Native community (referring to the past) and the Native community that is still here today."