Guest Voices: Cultural Astronomy of the Miami

Out guest post this week is by Tim McCoy, Curator-in-Charge, Division of Meteorites and Chair of the Department of Mineral Sciences at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. He is also a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

Elder Mildred Walker with Myaamia Project Director Daryl Baldwin planting Myaamia miincipi (Miami white corn). Courtesy of Daryl Baldwin and the Myaamia Project

Just as in various African cultures, watching the sky has been part of the lives of my tribe– the Myaamia or Miami– for countless generations. Throughout our lives, the cycles occurring overhead and within our homelands define the days, months, seasons, and years. This deep knowledge of our place– from our ancestral homelands in the Wabash River Valley (of what is now Indiana) to removal lands in modern Kansas and Oklahoma –has shaped our language and culture.   After generations of loss of cultural knowledge, and a period in which our language wasn’t spoken, we are regaining this knowledge of language and culture.   As a planetary scientist at the Smithsonian and citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, I have worked within my community to produce a multi-generational curriculum about the earth and sky.

Corn in various stages of grinding. Courtesy of Daryl Baldwin and the Myaamia Project

At the same time, our community has worked to strengthen our understanding of links between cycles in the sky and those in our homelands.    With the coming of the next new Moon, wiihkoowia kiilhswa (the whippoorwill moon) will arrive. This time of the year is when the whippoorwills– a type of bird found in North and Central America– call to begin the mating season.   The whippoorwill’s call also marks the time for planting Myaamia miincipi (Miami white corn).   If we plant in this Moon, the corn reaches the milk stage during kiisiinkwia kiilhswa (the green corn moon) and good to eat as fresh corn.  In the fall, this white flour corn will be harvested and ground for flour and meal.  Thus, while the sky provides a marker of time, it is also closely linked to these ecological cycles occurring in our homelands.