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  • Biopolitical Resistance to Indian Relocation in the Great Lakes
  • Ashley Glassburn (bio)

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...


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