Biopolitical Resistance to Indian Relocation in the Great Lakes
When the state of Indiana was founded in 1816, Anglo-American settlers controlled only the southernmost region of the territory. The Miami and Potawatomie managed the vast majority of the land and waterways. Such declarative acts illustrate the confidence and determination with which the federal government sought to appropriate these lands as an extension of the United States. Indeed, many of the Delaware, Piankashaw, Wea, and Kickapoo had already moved north or west to escape the seemingly inevitable violence of US westward expansion. Yet despite hundreds of years of colonization, the Miami Nation of Indiana remained on their homeland due partly to their strategic misuse of US biopolitical policies in the removal period.
Biopower is almost always attributed to states, corporations, or institutions, though a Foucauldian conception of power is circulatory, moving throughout the entirety of social relations. As the United States developed increasingly cohesive policies for managing American Indian populations, Indigenous people were taking stock of their situations and choices and some, such as the Miami, began adopting US biopolitical tactics for their own purposes. The first removal treaty that the Miami signed in 1838 required all Miami, except a single family, to move west of the Mississippi River. By the time militia forced the Miami to leave in 1846, the majority of the Miami were legally exempt from the process. Miami leaders used the biopolitical tools of the state, such as population tracking, the regulation of marriage and adoption, and shifting notions of family to significantly thwart relocation and land dispossession. The biopolitical resistance of the Miami suggests the "soft" ways in which colonized and oppressed peoples resisted the control of state power and illustrate how well they understood the political forces in which they found themselves. Uninterrupted tribal council control of Miami membership rolls means that to this day the Miami were never subject to US blood quantum or other genocidal identity policies under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In the first thirty years of Indiana statehood, Miami population and quality of life decreased dramatically. Initially the Miami benefited economically from [End Page 863] the flow of entrepreneurs and land speculators. Susan Sleeper Smith attributes Miami economic prowess partly to the swampy conditions of northern Indiana, which required speculators to pay the Miami to help them navigate the landscape and seasonally shifting waterways.1 By the end of 1846 nearly half of the Miami were forcibly relocated to Kansas, and those who remained in Indiana were rendered dependent on US annuity payments. In ten years the Indiana Miami population dropped from roughly 2,000 in 1830 to 800 in 1840 and then to 302 in 1846, with 248 residing in Kansas.2 The numbers alone speak to the social upheaval and severe loss the Miami experienced in this era. Though the Miami treaty negotiators were forced to make decisions in the fog of uncertain futures, their attentiveness to US investments in controlling Miami kinship and land relations allowed the Miami Nation to remain in their homelands, which allowed them to keep their stories, their language, and their culture alive. "Survivance" signals the victory of surviving colonial structures designed for genocide.3
The inherent dynamic between land, kinship, and sustenance is crucial to the biopolitical project of Indiana statehood and to understanding the success of Miami resistance. In 1816 Miami villages and encampments stretched across the majority of the newly designated state, particularly north of what is now Indianapolis. Villages were fairly permanent collections of buildings that housed people related through kinship or choice. Encampments were mobile and used for particular resources that were managed by clans—such as harvesting farmed land, hunting on seasonal grounds, and flintknapping. Miami traveled between relatives to gain use of such resources, learn skills, and to maintain relations.
The clan system was deeply tied to these seasonal movements to provide food, medicine, and goods for trade, which is to say that the clan system was a crucial social structure for maintaining the health and well-being of the Miami as a collective. Clans are much more than a way to figure the difference between cousins and neighbors. Clans keep certain knowledges, regulate certain resources, and speak to the role and responsibilities of subgroups to the whole. For a particular Miami to be able to visit and access the resources of various encampments and villages, that individual would need to maintain proper relations with each clan.
The Miami signed ten land cession treaties from 1817 to 1842, resulting in a permanent breakdown of precolonial Miami lifeways and social structures. The Miami conceded to the largest land cession treaty, the New Purchase, in 1818, cutting off access to significant hunting grounds and the majority of their [End Page 864] land mass. Over the next ten years Miami chiefs signed four more land cession treaties, significantly diminishing Miami mobility and lifeways with each. The distinctive roles and relations of the clans dispersed as the Miami were forced to move to increasingly concentrated land plots, fundamentally shifting their modes of relating to each other and to the lands that provided sustenance. In exchange for land the Miami received "perpetual annuity" payments from the United States, goods such as cloth and livestock, land improvements such as buildings and fences, and survivance.
By 1826 the United States became more explicit about the purpose of treaties with American Indian tribes. No longer were payments to be made in perpetuity. Instead, treaty language expressed a desire for an Indian-less future, as annuities would continue "as long as they exist together as a tribe."4 Land that the Miami continued to control was designated village reserves, a crucial ideological shift from communally held land within the remnants of a clan structure to a heteropatriarchal family-centered conception of land ownership. This new mode of kinship tied access to land and the various resources on that land, including waterways, hunting, lumber, and places to sleep, to a direct relationship with the male head of household. This shift consolidated access to the means of living in the hands of a small number of men, fundamentally adjusting how Miami relate to each other, the land, and their means of survival. Stewart Rafert argues that this new arrangement disproportionally benefited métis Miami, who were the sons and grandsons of French fur traders, in other words, the whitest, most European-influenced Miami.
The Miami continued to negotiate land treaties using all their human and economic resources to get much higher annuity payments than other nearby Indian tribes. The Miami and Potawatomi signed treaties just a week apart in 1826. Rafert argues that the high payment the Miami receive "bordered on the grotesque."5 The Miami knew that the intent of the increasingly scaffolded treaties were to displace them from their homelands entirely, and they were intent on building a future in Indiana. In addition to the initial payment of cash and goods at the 1826 treaty, "the tribe was to receive two hundred cows and two hundred hogs. In addition, nine Miami chiefs were to be given a wagon, a yoke of oxen, and a house worth $600."6 By incorporating permanent buildings and the means for maintaining agriculture endeavors into land cession treaties, the Miami were seeking the resources to maintain a life in Indiana after the larger Miami land mass was ceded. Such demands may have functioned as material and declarative forms of resistance, by further entrenching Miami life amid large-scale American Indian removals. [End Page 865]
The Miami faced mounting pressure to sign a relocation treaty as the white population north of the Wabash River exploded, from 3,380 in 1830 to 65,897 in 1840.7 The Miami were the last Indian tribe remaining in Indiana when they signed the removal treaty in 1838. Still quite powerful and wealthy, they were able to insist on strategic requirements that later facilitated a significant subversion of the removal requirement. This treaty declared that tribal council had complete control over tribal membership and that Chief Richardville and his family were exempt from removal. The initial exemption of the Richardville family can be interpreted as a self-protective measure at the expense of the rest of the tribe; however, the Miami were able to use competing notions of family and control of tribal membership rolls to significantly expand who qualified as part of Richardville's family exemption. In this way, the Miami used the biopolitical tools of population control to resist the genocidal project of forced removal.
The Miami played with shifting notions of kinship to incorporate the expansiveness of clan relations into federal documents listing Miami family members. Cousins, aunties, in-laws, and newborns were added to the list. Marriages were recorded and formal adoption processes followed in order to legally expand the number of relatives exempt from removal. As the tribal council executed its duties in managing the membership rolls, it was keenly aware that any new members of the tribe reduced the annuity payments for all Miami, but by organizing membership rolls by male heads of households, the council was able to significantly increase the number of Miami officially exempt from removal.
The stakes of these biopolitical tactics were reinforced to Miami leadership when a delegation traveled to Kansas to inspect the proposed reservation location. Tribal leaders reported scorched land and dry creeks, which echoed reports from other Indigenous nations that the western lands could not provide adequate sustenance. The impending trauma and struggle of relocation was appropriately feared and thus strongly resisted. The 1840 treaty exempted two more chief's families, Francis Godfroy and Meshingomesia, and in 1845 the family of Mahkoonsekwa (Frances Slocum) was exempt through joint-resolution of the US Senate and House.8 Each of the four families exempt from removal used Miami control of tribal rolls and Miami understandings of family to greatly expand the number of individual Miami listed as exempt.
By the time militia enforced the removal in 1846, the number of Miami exempt from removal grew from 12 to 302. More than half of the Miami living at the time legally remained on homelands in Indiana and continued to receive annuity payments in Fort Wayne, Indiana. [End Page 866]
This case highlights the biopolitical dynamics between land, kinship, and survivability in early Native America. In the first thirty years of Indiana state-hood, Miami lifeways were fundamentally altered, as land cessions forced them to learn how to survive without access to their hunting grounds and other key resource locations. The annuity payments for those lands fostered an economy in which the Miami lived off of credit on those payments, putting them in debt to predatory traders and land spectators. The Miami became increasingly alienated from their previous lifeways and accustomed to cash economies. These dual forces fostered Miami dependence on US payments, which reduced their self-sufficiency and undermined Miami sovereignty.
The shift from tribally held land to family-owned deeds forced the Miami to reconceptualize family relations, formally and informally, as they became more protective of who belonged to whose family under US law and who has a right to live on what lands. The land itself was remade as the US engineered canals across northern Indiana in order to drain swampy areas, manage flooding, and open the region up to commercial boat trade—signs of industrial and agricultural progress for the United States. The Miami who remained in Indiana witnessed the lands remade for industry and the seasonal shifts in the waterways disappear.
The Miami who were forcibly removed from Indiana left on canal boats on October 6, 1846, and arrived at the new western reserve in Kansas on November 9, after losing many to sickness and malnutrition. Broader research on Indian removals suggests that sexual assault was likely rampant. Miami population counts in 1854 and 1872 illustrate the loss that continued to plague the western Miami as the population dropped to 115, a 53.4 percent decrease in one generation.9 Comparative studies of Indian removals highlight the US divestment in life and future presumed through forced relocations. Biopolitical interventions in indigenous lives amount to slow forms of genocide.
The social violence of this period was devastating for the Miami, despite the incredible success of Miami remaining on their homelands. The lands on which the Indiana Miami lived were now deeded to be tax-free in perpetuity, which provides stability and reduces the cash costs of living. They benefited from the quality of the soil in Indiana as they continued to farm and hunt on their properties. Some relocated Miami walked back to Indiana. The newly organized family structures in Indiana continued to provide the social support necessary for tribal life to continue, and tribal control of membership prevented the United States from further interfering in Miami management of the remaining lands until the 1890s. [End Page 867]
Even as the Miami benefited financially from the earliest land cession treaties, they understood the interdependent relationship of land and life. Thus they had some sense of how their choices would delimit the tribe's future. Whether they could have imagined how these treaties would reshape Miami human relations is less clear. Biopolitics is messy in this way. Using the state's biopolitical tools to resist removal is not a strategy that would work in all cases, and the future costs are always unknowable. The success is in survival. By 1872 the Indiana Miami population grew to about 350, a 15.9 percent increase.
Today there are over 2,000 Miami living in Indiana. The few American Indian Nations, like the Miami, that maintained control of tribal memberships often have much clearer membership records and have seen their populations rise over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. The concept and policy of blood quantum was designed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ensure that no person would count as an Indian in three generations. It is a biopolitical tool for eradicating Indigenous identity in the United States. Maintaining control over Miami membership rolls and refusing the logics of blood quantum are contemporary Miami uses of biopolitics for survivance.
In this case a biopolitical framework reshapes the historical narrative of this period from one about wealth and property to one about the necessary conditions of surviving as Indian behind the westward-moving boundary of the United States. The ways in which Miami cared for each other and themselves transformed as access to the basic resources of life were forbidden through new property lines. Thinking through a biopolitical lens in this case raises further questions for me about the relationship between Indigenous survivance and resistance. What other biopolitical strategies did American Indians use to resist relocation and genocide? What were the biopolitical effects of intertribal and international adoption in the Indian removal period? Biopolitical frameworks draw analysis away from the abstraction of policy and legislation to the lived and embodied impact of settling the United States. Attentiveness to the conditions of life and well-being illustrate the brutality of Indigenous death and costs of Indigenous survivance. [End Page 868]
Ashley Glassburn (Miami Nation of Indiana) is a President's Indigenous Peoples Scholar and assistant professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Windsor. Her interdisciplinary research brings together a critical analysis of history making with contemporary tribal politics to strategically work toward anticolonial Indigenous resurgence and futurities. Funding from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, American Philosophical Society, Newberry Library of Chicago, Mellon Foundation, Rutgers University, and Eastern Michigan University have made this work possible.
1. Susan Sleeper Smith, Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 4.
2. Stewart Rafert, The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654–1994 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1996), 95.
3. Survivance was coined within Indigenous studies by Gerald Vizenor to connotate an active sense of presence. While Jacques Derrida used it to denote a state somewhere between life and death, Indigenous studies scholars such as Jace Weaver interpret it as the interplay between survival and resistance. See Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives of PostIndian Survivance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).
4. Rafert, Miami Indians, 94.
5. Rafert, 92.
6. Rafert, 93.
7. Rafert, 95.
8. "H.R. 68 a Joint Resolution for the Benefit of Frances Slocum and her Children and Grandchildren of the Miami Tribe of Indians" Committee of Indian Affairs, 28th Cong., 2nd Sess. (January 29, 1845).
9. "Argument of the Western Miami Delegation before the Committee of Indian Affairs, U.S. Senate, Against the Bill No. 777," Ayer 250.15 N76 B8 1845, Newberry Library.