Historical Society Dinner

Miami Indian historian Dunnagan
to speak at Historical Society dinner

More than 6,000 tribe members live in state

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(November 2010) – When John Dunnagan told fellow students at his high school that he was a Miami Indian, the reaction was usually laughter.
That’s because people believe the myth that all Native Americans are dark and have high cheek bones. His looks suggest he has European ancestors – and he does.
Although he may not resemble the stereotypical Indian, the 48-year-old Dunnagan is vice-chief and tribal historian of the Miami Indians of Indiana. His great-great-grandfather incorporated the tribe in 1937 and his mother was the first woman chief.
Dunnagan will speak on Miami tribal history at the annual awards dinner of the Jefferson County Historical Society on Friday, Nov. 5. This year’s event takes place at the restored Madison Masonic Lodge, 217 E. Main St. The social begins at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. catered by Paradise Cove Catering. The cost is $25 and reservations can be made by calling the JCHS office at (812) 265-2335.

John Dunnagan


The Miami Indians of Indiana have more than 6,000 enrolled members. There are members in all 92 Indiana counties except Switzerland County. A large number of current tribe members live in Miami County. Tribal headquarters is located in Peru.
Dunnagan said 12 treaties dispersed the tribe, including the 1846 treaty, which resulted in half the tribe being removed to Kansas and then Oklahoma. The tribe was federally recognized until 1897. The state of Indiana revoked their tribal status so it could levy property tax on tribal property. At the same time, from 1897 to 1924, the state of Indiana denied individual Indians the right to own property. That right was restored in the 1920s by the Indiana Citizenship Act, but many Miami had hidden their tribal identity for years so they could be property owners.
In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act provided a means to have tribal recognition restored, but Dunnagan said the Miami were turned down because nearly all their members had either hidden their status or transferred their membership to the Western Miami tribe, which offered more benefits.
After tribal recognition was refused, the Indiana Miami incorporated as a not-for-profit organization.
To be a member of the tribe, an individual must prove he or she is descended from a Miami tribe member listed on the 1854, 1889 or 1895 government payrolls. The tribal organization continues its quest for both state and federal recognition. “Hopefully we’ll regain our place in history where we are a recognized tribe.”
Dunnagan grew up in Wabash County and now lives in neighboring Miami County, about 12 miles away from his childhood home. “When I was young, it (being an Indian) didn’t really mean much to me,” he said. However, his mother took him on monthly trips to Fort Wayne to research the family’s genealogy at the Allen County Public Library’s famous genealogy center. That’s what hooked him on history. He took a seat on the Tribal Council in 1997 and soon moved into a leadership position with the tribe.
Dunnagan has a wealth of knowledge about the history of the Miami tribe in Indiana, which he will share with local residents during the Nov. 5 event.

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