The Peoria belong to Algonquian-speaking peoples whose pre-Columbian ancestors were part of the Cahokia culture of present southern Illinois. French woodsmen named them "Peoria," meaning "he comes carrying a pack on his back." The Peoria practiced a nature-centered religion. French missionaries converted many to Catholicism.
After 1763 the Peoria migrated to northwestern Missouri Territory. By the 1832 Treaty of Lewisville the tribe exchanged lands in Missouri for homes in Kansas along the Osage River. Here they consolidated with the Kaskaskia, Piankashaw, and the Wea peoples. The new Confederated Peorias numbered 437 people; only fifty-five were of Peoria lineage. By the Omnibus Treaty of 1867 the Confederated Peorias, now joined by the Miami, sold all properties in Kansas, purchased land from the Quapaws, and settled between the Arkansas border and the Neosho River in northeastern Indian Territory.
Peorias accepted other cultures and people into the tribe. They adopted white children as well as those from their own tribe, intermarried with Anglo-Americans and other Indian peoples, and welcomed ex-slaves. Today it would be almost impossible to find a full-blood Peoria. Except for small family gardens of squash and corn, the people held land in common. In the late nineteenth century they leased pasture to Texas ranchers for grazing.
The U.S. government operated a school opened in 1870 by Quakers. Curriculum included English, arithmetic, history, and reading. Instruction was entirely in English. Children received Anglo-American names and were allowed to speak only English. After 1896 high school students attended the Seneca Indian School at Miami, Oklahoma.
In 1956, under the federal government's termination policy, the Peoria Tribe was officially dissolved. In April 1978 Congress voted to restore federal recognition. The contemporary government structure of the Peoria Indian Tribe of Oklahoma (Peoria, Piankishaw, Kaskaskia, and Wea) blends traditions and modern institutions. Recognized members of the tribe elect the nation's top executives to serve as the business committee, consisting of first chief, second chief, and five officer-members, for a four-year term. The legislative branch, or council, is open to all citizens eighteen years of age or older. The tribe maintains a headquarters complex in Miami, Oklahoma, and also belongs to the Inter-tribal Council, Inc., composed of eight small tribes in Ottawa County.
At the end of the twentieth century the Peoria Indian Tribe of Oklahoma numbered 2,639 enrolled members. Economic activities included ownership and operation of Peoria Ridge Golf Course, a public facility opened in 1999. The Peoria Pow Wow had become an annual cultural event held at the Peoria Tribal Grounds, east of Miami. A tribal language and culture committee had begun working toward revitalization of the Peoria language by offering language instruction to tribe members.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Joe Jackson, "Schools Among the Minor Tribes in Indian Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 32 (Winter 1954). "Peorias," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Glen Roberson, "The Homeless Peoria," in Oklahoma's Forgotten Indians, ed. Robert E. Smith (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1981). Doris Valley and Mary M. Lembcke, eds., The Peorias: A History of the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma (Miami, Okla.: The Peoria Indian Tribe of Oklahoma, 1991).
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