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Linguist and cultural preservationist Daryl Baldwin ’96, M.A. ’99, Oxford, Ohio, earned a 2016 MacArthur Foundation fellowship, commonly known as a “genius grant,” to help further his work to restore the linguistic, cultural and intellectual heritage of the Myaamia (Miami) Nation to its present-day descendants. He and 22 other Fellows will receive $625,000 in grants for their exceptional creativity and potential future contributions to their fields.
Daryl, who earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology and master’s degree in English from UM, is a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. Starting in 1991, he used historical documentation and other resources to teach himself and his family the Myaamia language, which lost its last known native speaker in the 1960s. He now is the director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Ohio, which supports research on the reclamation and preservation of the Myaamia language, as well as other aspects of the tribal nation’s culture, including harvesting and ethnobotany practices and its traditional lunar calendar. The center, which Daryl helped start in 2001, also assists in the development of tribal education and uses technology to make learning materials widely available to the Myaamia people, whose 5,000 descendants are now scattered across the country after their forced removal from their homeland in the Great Lakes region in the 19th century. “Our language and culture are central to our identity as Myaamia people,” Daryl says. “Our work to revitalize these important aspects of our being over the past two decades has had a significant impact on our ability to recover important cultural knowledge and strengthen communal bonds.”
Daryl, who still is sorting out options and logistics on exactly how he will use the no-strings-attached “genius grant,” says he was surprised when the MacArthur Foundation called with the news.
“It’s a very surreal experience, especially because I had no idea it was coming,” he says. “My first reaction was, ‘Is this a joke?’ Afterward, it started to sink in, and I felt very humbled that others would think so much of our work and efforts to revitalize our language. It’s hard to put my reaction into words.”
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