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Ben Mikesell | The Journal Gazette
Gloria Tippmann, 17, talks to Melvin Day about traditional Miami Indian regalia at Chief Richardville House on Saturday.

Teen shares Miami heritage through dance

– With the roaring of car engines racing up and down Bluffton Road, it was hard to hear the music Gloria Tippmann was dancing to, but the passion was evident.

Cloaked in a buttery-yellow shawl, gray fringe swaying, Tippmann began a light-footed prance in the shady, green oasis behind the historic Chief Richardville House on Saturday.

As the featured performer for the History Center’s Miami Indian Heritage Days, the soft-spoken 17-year old wanted to share how traditional Miami dance had shaped her family as well as herself.

“I want to share it with them because it has a big impact on my life, and I love it so much,” Tippmann said. “When you love something, you want to share it, and you want to tell people about it.”

While most patrons come to tour the 1827 home, the History Center conducts programs on the property that give visitors some history of the Miami tribe.

Tippmann, who volunteers as a tour guide for the house, spread out her mother’s traditional Miami Indian regalia across the well-worn picnic table along with the other special items and shawls she has helped her grandmother make.

She pointed to a turtle stitched on the fabric, symbolizing her family’s ties to Chief Little Turtle and the Miami who once lived in the area now known as Fort Wayne.

Tippmann said her mother, Dani Tippmann, who will lead a discussion on edible and usable plants and materials in September, has inspired her to teach and share what they have learned about their culture.

Though her family also has some European background, they have spent a lot of time learning about their Native American heritage as well.

When she graduates from Bishop Dwenger High School, she would like to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, to learn the endangered Miami language.

“My mom has given presentations at schools for as long as I can remember, and I would go with her and help her out. I would like to do that someday. I have already given presentations to my classmates,” Tippmann said.

She explained the traditional dances of the Miami tribe – women try to always keep one foot planted firmly on the ground to stay connected with the earth. Men take a similar approach, but with a stomp.

Tippmann then performed a type of Miami jig known as fancy dance. She said the dance is about a butterfly that loses her mate, but her solemn walk transforms into a light-footed dance in celebration. The colorful shawls wrapped across the arms of the dancer are symbolic of butterfly wings.

Because the dance is faster, it allows for more elaborate regalia and footwork, which Tippmann said is more fun. But traditional celebrations honoring the tribe are also important, she said.

“It’s a very big part of our culture. We have celebrations to celebrate lives, our tribes and all of us being one,” she said. “It’s a universal thing because we come from different backgrounds and separated through time, but that music brings us back together. I really love that.”

Cindy Vasquez, who said she is descended from the Cherokee nation, brought her 12-year-old daughter, Lydia, to the Chief Richardville House to get the experience of a different tribe.

The dance is similar, but the regalia were very different from the Cherokee, she said.

“We wanted to see the Indiana heritage because my family is from Tennessee and North Carolina,” Vasquez said. “I think it’s neat because Fort Wayne has a lot of diversity, a lot of cultures.

“I would like to see more of Miami culture, because I came hoping that they would have jewelry and more tribe dancing with the drum. I think it would draw more people in.”

Tippmann didn’t seem worried about whether she drew a crowd as she let her dance take flight.

“It reminds me of how just joyful life can be and just to have fun,” she said. “You don’t get wrapped up in everything, you just let yourself go and enjoy it.”