Disruptions and movements of Native American peoples during the proto-historic period of the 1600s make it difficult to ascribe settlement in Marion County to a specific historic tribe. As the area of present-day central Indiana became better known to Europeans in the 1700s, speakers of Central Algonquian languages were reported as inhabitants of the Wabash/Maumee region. In all probability, they also utilized the White River drainage lands. 

License to trade with the Miami Indians, December 30, 1807
Credit: Indiana State Archives

The Miami, Wea, and Piankashaw, speakers of dialects of a single Central Algonquian language, were in the general region throughout the 1700s. Kickapoo, Mascouten, Shawnee, and Potawatomi were also reported in central Indiana periodically during that century. At the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, Little Turtle, the Miami war chief, claimed a broad area that included the future site of Indianapolis. The Miami continued to assert the primacy of its claim to the region throughout the treaty period of the early 1800s.

The first solid records of occupancy along the West Fork of the White River date to the early 1800s. Between ca. 1795 and 1821, a number of Delaware villages and one Nanticoke village existed along the White River from its forks to the east of present Muncie, Indiana. Both the Delaware and Nanticoke spoke Coastal Algonquian languages and, having lost their original lands along the Atlantic seaboard, moved into the region at the invitation of the Miami. Most of the Delaware villages along the White River were upriver from present-day Indianapolis. At least one of these villages was in northern Marion County near the Hamilton County line.

Miami Chief Little Turtle reluctantly signed the Treaty of Greenville yielding Native American land to the United States, ca. 1747-1812
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

In 1818, in separate treaties negotiated at St. Mary’s, Ohio (the New Purchase treaties), both the Delaware and Miami alienated their claims to the greater part of central Indiana south of the Wabash River, including the area that would become Marion County. In their treaty, the Delaware agreed to move to an area west of the Mississippi and most of the Delaware who had not already departed were removed in 1821.

During the 1820s, as the Indianapolis vicinity was in transition from Native American to Anglo-American occupancy, a declining American Indian presence was still recorded. The existence of William Conner‘s trading post in present-day Hamilton County ensured some continuation of nearby Indian trade. Village and campsites were noted during surveys of the county confirming both present and past occupancy and use by Native Americans. At least one early Indianapolis resident, Calvin Fletcher, reported that he was supplied with game in the city by a group of Wyandot in 1823. However, by the end of the 1820s, the Native American presence in the immediate area of Indianapolis was negligible.

In recent times, there has been a different trend in the relationship between American Indians and Indianapolis. As an urban center, Indianapolis has attracted Native Americans from many tribes and regions. In the 2010 census, the diverse Native American population of Marion County numbered 901.

The Eiteljorg Museum Of American Indians And Western Art in downtown Indianapolis houses an extensive collection of visual arts by indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Revised July 2021

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