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A Brief History of Tribes

Posted by: Greater Oklahoma City Chamber on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 12:00:00 am

Deeply and inexorably rooted in Native American culture and history, Oklahoma as a state proudly bills itself as “Native America,” with a statue called “The Guardian” depicting a Native American man with a spear and shield by former Seminole Chief and member of the Oklahoma Legislature (not to mention artist, obvi) Enoch Kelly Haney sitting atop the dome of the Capitol. The name “Oklahoma” even comes from two Choctaw words meaning red (“humma”) and people (“okla”).

A total of 67 Native American tribes have called Oklahoma home, and the state is currently home to 38 federally-recognized tribes producing an estimated $10.8 billion in economic impact. As with many indigenous cultures the world over that have been subject to the forces of imperialism or colonization, the history of Native Americans in Oklahoma is not only a source of pride for Oklahomans but is also complex, often tragic, and naturally difficult to sum up in a blog format. But, we endeavor to please, so here’s a brief sketch.

Prior to European contact, native tribes such as the Wichitas, Caddos, Apaches and Quapaws inhabited modern-day Oklahoma. As European influence and pressures elsewhere grew, other tribes migrated here including Pawnee, Osage, Comanche and Kiowa, in some cases displacing other native peoples. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 then forced all native peoples west of the Mississippi, and the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole) were relocated to Oklahoma (the eastern half of the state was known as “Indian Territory”), along with several others (Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Shawnee, etc.).

After more post-antebellum resettlement due to stresses partially brought on by the expansion of rail networks through then-Indian lands in Kansas and Nebraska, The Dawes Act of 1887 (and other subsequent legislation in the case of the Five Civilized Tribes) then effectively ended communal land ownership, with the government ceding plots to individual tribal members. The “leftover” land was then allowed to be resettled, often via land run (the method by which a large portion of central Oklahoma was opened). The Wheeler-Howard Law or Indian Reorganization Act ended the practice of allotment and renewed tribal government and organization rights in 1934. After World War II, Congress then decided to end recognition of some tribes, resulting in land forfeiture in some cases.

From 1968 to the present day, Native Americans have been able to claim more sovereignty and take advantage of more of a stance of “self-governance” toward the tribes from the federal government, reestablishing themselves as cultural and economic forces.

For a bibliography/source info and more on this complex subject, please check out:
http://www.theamericanindiancenter.org/oklahoma-tribal-history
http://www.okhistory.org/research/oktribes
http://www.travelok.com/american_indian_culture
http://www.travelok.com/files/genealogy/origins_of_oklahoma_tribes.pdf
http://www.travelok.com/article_page/oklahomas-rich-indian-history
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Removal_Act
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawes_Act

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