ASC’s Wiikiaami room honors Miami heritage
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 02:10
Although the Armstrong Student Center is built with hopes for the future in mind – hopes of galas in the pavilion, sold-out performances in the theater and cultural exchanges in the lounge –one room in the center calls the campus to look back at its history.
The Wiikiaami Room pays tribute to the Miyaamia tribe. Its circular design and east-facing door resembles that of traditional wiikiaami dwellings, but that is where the resemblance ends, according to Myaamia tribesman Jody Gamble.
“It pays a good tribute,” Gamble said. “But it’s more like an interpretation of a wiikiaami than a version of a wiikiaami.”
A true wiikiaami would be made entirely from young, green sticks, bound together with twine in a circular path to make a sphere, according to archivist and museum curator for the Miami Nation, Meghan Dorey.
On the external side of the structure, the interlaced sticks would be covered with cattail mats, an innovation in temperature control that, despite its simplicity, could give the Armstrong Center’s new heating and cooling system a run for its money.
“The mats would contract to become watertight when it rained and would expand when it was dry to allow air through,” Dorey explained. “If it was especially cold, they could put an extra layer of hides on top to keep the warmth in.”
In addition to the room’s circular shape and its east-facing door, the room will feature custom-inlayed woodwork hand-crafted by Myaamia tribesman Jody Gamble. In his woodshop in Okla., Gamble carefully inlayed different types of wood into a cherry base to create a traditional ribbonwork pattern.
“The pattern was based off a real piece,” Gamble said. “It was a ceremonial skirt that a lady would have worn for celebrations or ceremonies.”
Gamble has personally constructed wiikiaamis in the past and said the room in the Armstrong center bears little resemblance to the traditional structure but is honoring to the tribe nonetheless.
The prospect of constructing such a structure entirely out of green wood was immediately shut down by the fire code, Gamble said. Instead, the room will feature wood paneling with Gamble’s handiwork.
According to Inaugural Director of the Armstrong Student Center Katie Wilson, the room will have four display cases around its perimeter for showcasing Myaamia art and artifacts. It will also feature a two-tiered wooden bench along its perimeter and a panel of wood around the door, Wilson said. It is in this wood that Gamble’s work will be inlayed.
In addition to mirroring the wiikiaami’s design, the round shape of the room is ideal for facilitating dialogue, Wilson said. The Armstrong Student Center’s website promises the room will be open for both planned events and spontaneous meetings.
Although the wiikiaami room does not ressemble the dwelling it is designed to reflect, Gamble said it is an indication of the strong relationship between Miami University and the Miami Nation in Okla.
“Everybody that goes in there will know about our traditional structure,” Gamble said. “We’ll always have a wiikiaami now that people can go into. It’s a teaching tool, it will open the door for questions.”
The tribe recreated the practice of building wiikiaamis for the purpose of passing along tradition and language to the next generation, Dorey said.
“We use it to teach language and to teach about the environment we were in at the time,” Dorey said. “We teach history with it, how families and villages were related to each other.”
Passing along these traditions is vital to the tribe, Gamble said. “[This is all] so that the youth do not let go of the past.