Daryl Baldwin is a leader in Native American language and cultural revitalization.
Daryl Baldwin is a leader in Native American language and cultural revitalization. Photo: Photo courtesy of Myaamia Center

Miami "genius grant" winner Daryl Baldwin to address graduates May 13

By Margo Kissell, university news and communications

Daryl Baldwin, director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University and a leader in Native American language and cultural revitalization, will be the commencement speaker at Miami’s ceremony 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at Yager Stadium.

Baldwin, who also is an adjunct assistant professor in educational leadership, in September was awarded a “genius grant” as one of the 2016 MacArthur Fellows. He was among 23 people selected from a variety of fields by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Selections were made based primarily on “exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances,” the foundation said.

Baldwin, a linguist and cultural preservationist, is leading a revival of the cultural heritage and language of the Miami (Myaamia) Nation, of which he is a citizen.

Forced removal of the Myaamia people from their homeland in the Great Lakes region to the west in the 19th century “scattered the Myaamia people, now numbering around 5,000, across the country and accelerated the decline of the Miami language,” his MacArthur Fellows bio says. By the mid-20th century, it had lost its last native speaker.

“It’s a work of passion. It’s also a work of identity for me and for other tribal members. This is about discovery of self,” Baldwin said after he was named a MacArthur Fellow. “This is a wonderful recognition of what the community has been able to do, and it’s a direct outcome of the collaboration of the Miami Tribe and Miami University.”

Miami President Greg Crawford said Baldwin’s work is having a tremendous impact that could be felt for generations to come.

“This cultural reawakening is significant for the tribe and has also brought a wealth of knowledge to the university community,” he said. “I’ve seen firsthand how students share stories fluently in the Myaamia language. It’s incredibly moving.”

Baldwin came to Miami in 2001 as founding director of the Myaamia Project, which in 2013 became the Myaamia Center.

Today, the center — a joint venture between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the university — is going strong with a staff of seven.

The Myaamia Center, with Baldwin as principal investigator, is working with a grant to revitalize endangered languages through the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages workshops in Washington, D.C.

Breath of Life is designed to train researchers from indigenous communities in methods of archives-based linguistic and ethnographic research. The research is critical to the advancement of knowledge about indigenous languages and cultures.

The Myaamia Center works with the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Program, which is supporting organizational and curatorial support for the Breath of Life program.

Baldwin is co-author on a study showing that tribal students at Miami, where they learn the language and culture of their heritage among other studies, graduate at much higher rates than Native American students across the United States.

Baldwin holds a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology and a master’s in arts with an emphasis on Native American linguistics from the University of Montana.