The quest for recognition
Possessing a voice connected to the past, being able to trace heritage and practice long-held meaningful traditions are things many strive for in the local community. Those things have become a heartfelt passion for one Carroll County native and those he represents.
According to author and Chief of the Eel River Indian Tribe Mike Floyd, it has long been held as fact the Carroll County area was only populated by Miami Indians in the years prior to the advent of the canal system. However, Floyd is on a mission to set the record books, and the thinking of historians, straight. He and the tribe also want to gain recognition by the federal government that the tribe was and is a viable one in this area of the country.
Floyd is a 1982 graduate of Delphi Community High School and attended Ball State University. He has been self-employed for most of his adult life. He eventually began using his artwork to make a living. After some time, his art became mostly about Native American subjects.
Floyd recently published two books, which independently portray the story of the Eel River Indians. "Eel River Tribe" tells the story from the perspective of the tribe and "l'Anguille Snakes in the Grass - Family of Honor" from the European point of view. Floyd said his mission was an attempt "to correct our history...to correct popular things that are told."
"If you don't know where you come from," Floyd said, "you can't know where you're going."
Floyd explained the late Samuel Milroy, who was a federal government Indian agent, helped the government establish "territories" which in turn allowed for the purchase of land from Indians by virtue of the newly created use of "eminent domain." Because the Eel River Indians' numbers were small, their group was identified by the federal government as a sub-group of the Miami Indians.
Floyd said the act of that combining became a problem for his peoples' heritage and identity characteristics.
For example, the famous Indian leader Little Turtle is commonly known as a Miami, but was an Eel River Indian according to Floyd.
"To lump Little Turtle into the Miami Tribe meant to exclude the Eel River Tribe from existence," Floyd said as an example of one of the ways his tribe has lost its identity.
Floyd emphasized it is important for the people in his tribe to have a definite identity, not one conjoined with the Miami Nation.
"It gives us substance," he said. "We are real. It is important this story gets told. It is who we are."
One tradition embraced by the Eel River Indians is participation in a "Longhouse." The term refers to a gathering of tribes, typically done four times each year, to celebrate the changing of the seasons and to reaffirm the Indian way. In the past year, Floyd and his sister, Marsha Stoner, have hosted two Longhouses on Stoner's property just north of Treida's Curve on US 421.
Indians from various tribes come to Carroll County to sit in a Longhouse with a fire in the middle of the large enclosure and talk about what it means to be Indian and to share thoughts and feelings common to all.
Stoner said she believes the property holds a spiritual tie to the past. The last Longhouse, which was March 24, became a gathering place for tribal members from seven different tribes.
"Indian ceremonies are very spiritual," Stoner said. "We believe in the Creator and what he created. We believe in showing appreciation for all he has done and to all he created."
"The Longhouse is about being heard," Floyd explained. "It is a celebration of who we are."
"The Creator teaches us that every thing has a life force," Floyd explained. "We can't affect one thing without affecting all other things. We need to respect all things and the Longhouse helps us to reaffirm that belief together."
"We do not pray to a tree directly," he concluded, "but we pray and give thanks for what the tree gives to us and its place in the world."
Floyd said that although Indiana got its name from being the "land of the Indians," there are no federally recognized Indian tribes in the state. He and his tribe intend to change that fact and have filed for the necessary recognition, which means overcoming a number of obstacles and following prescribed guidelines and regulations.
"One thing you have to do to become federally recognized is become a corporation," Floyd said. "We filed for that and were granted a not-for-profit corporation status on Aug. 21, 2006."
"Aug. 21, 1803, was the date the treaty combining the Eel River, Miami and Wea Indian tribes was signed," Floyd said. "We consider it a good sign we accomplished one important task to becoming federally recognized on the anniversary date of when that was officially taken away from us."
"The federal process is not easy," Floyd explained. "It is not about money for our group, it's about traditions."
Floyd's books are available at Borders Books, Target, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Other options can be found by "googling" the book titles.
Book proceeds benefit the tribe and help to fund scholarships for personal education to elevate the Native American community, to help those who are struggling financially, to improve the quality of life for elders and to encourage conservation of the heritage and retain all Native American artifacts.
Floyd organized the "Tapestry of People" for the Delphi Art Show in 2003 and is currently available for presentations to school assemblies and other groups upon request.
Floyd's ethnic artwork can be found in 67 countries and in private collections throughout the world. Locally, it is at Camp Tecumseh and Delphi Community High School. Floyd can be reached by visiting the tribal Web site at www.eelrivertribeofindiana.or