Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meeting Dr. Littlefield, Reuben Noah, Mary Robinson & Ron Graham...

I don't know many people who can say a book changed their life but I can honestly say that about "The Chickasaw Freedmen a People Without a Country" written by Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. So you can imagine what a thrill it was for me to meet him for the first time and be able to express my gratitude for the work he has done.
Terry LIGON & Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield Jr.

Dr. Littlefield was so accommodating I "almost" felt guilty for taking up his time. The highlight for me was the morning I was coming back from the hotel gym, I happen to glance over at the little breakfast room and found him sitting alone enjoy his meal. I was hesitant at first not wanting to disturb his solitude or meal but how many chances was I going to get to sit down and talk with the man that brought my great grandmother's story to me and begin this journey that is now twenty years long?

Over the years friends and colleagues told me how generous Dr. Littlefield was with his time but he was more gracious than I ever thought, AND he autographed my copy of his book!

Director-Five Civilized Tribes Museum Muskogee, OK

The day before my meeting Dr. Littlefield I had the pleasure of meeting with Mary Robinson the Director of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee. The museum along with several organization responsible for the conference gave an opening night reception for the conference participants. 

I had a wonderful time meeting Mary and several board members Dr. Georgia Leeds, Carole Cole and Shirley James; clearly these women understand the importance of preserving history and as President of Indian Territory & Oklahoma Freedmen Historical Association I can't thank them enough for providing us space and opportunity to contribute information about Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Co-Founders & members of ITOFHA

Members of the Indian Territory & Oklahoma Freedmen Historical Association traveled vast distances to meet in Muskogee for an opportunity to view the exhibit that will remain on display for several months so we encourage all to visit the museum and take advantage of the hospitality of the staff.

The board of directors of ITOFHA would personally like to thank the Manager of Collections, Reuben NOAH for his hard work and dedication in putting the exhibit together. Over the past month Reuben has been traveling back and forth to Oklahoma City and was able to put the display together and we are eternally grateful for his tireless work ethic.

In fact Reuben was so busy during the event we didn't think we were going to meet him in person. For the past month or more most of our communications have been over the phone. Reuben was still in Oklahoma City performing task for the museum and attending a conference on museum preservation and we kept hoping we would meet him before the conference in Muskogee was over. It was with great delight to finally meet Reuben when we broke for lunch on Saturday and I found him warm and personal as I expected from our conversations over the phone.

Thanx again Reuben for everything!

Cof Founder of ITOFHA Carlotta KEMP-WHEELER, Terry LIGON, Dir. Museum Collections Reuben NOAH, Co-Founder of ITOFHA Joyce SHELTON-SETTLES

I can't tell you what a delight it was to finally meet Mr. Ron GRAHAM! I've only known Ron by the work he has been doing on behalf of Creek Muskogee Freedmen and I've watched him grow into a leader in his community over the years. He and Rhonda GRAYSON along with other hard working and skillful Creek Freedmen Descendants have really bursted on the scene with some dynamic thinking and programs to benefit freedmen descendants today and in the future they are to truly be commended on the work they do. All of us at ITOFHA applaud them and look forward to working together in the future!

Ron and his organization did something that truly warmed my heart by presenting me and Angela WALTON-RAJI with awards for our contributions to Freedmen preservation and I must say it is something that will keep me going in the years to come. For the most part I have worked in isolation and this is the first time anyone thought enough of what I do to just say thank you, and that means a lot to me, Ron you and everyone in the Muskogee Creek Freedmen Band will always be a part of me for this gesture thank you so much!

Don't forget to holla at a brotha!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Five Tribes Museum Storyteller Conference...

Finally I have time to give some reflections on the "5 Tribes Story Conference" being held at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma. This was the first of what is hope to be many conference hosted by the museum with the intention of offering advice and direction for the many forms of storytelling with an emphasis on the history of the so called Five Civilized Tribes.
I was initially contacted by Reuben Noah, the Manager of Collections at the museum for a contribution to be included in an exhibit that provided some history of Indian Territory Freedmen. The fact that Reuben understood the importance of including people of African and African-Native descent in the story of the five tribes was a welcomed change in the way our story has been missing from the story of the five tribes.

Given an opportunity to share of story of a shared history was important to the founding members of the newly formed organization; Indian Territory & Oklahoma Freedmen Hstorical Association and we decided that not only would we contribute to this historical effort, we wanted to have several of our members in attendance during the conference to support this important recognition of African descendant people on the historical map of Indian Territory.

It was through the urging of Joyce Shelton-Settles and Carlotta Kemp-Wheeler that two of the other six founding members were able to join them in attending this first conference dedicated to storytellers of our shared history. Although the freedmen would not have an active role to play in presenting their oral tradition at the conference we will urge the board of directors of the museum to give serious consideration to our input and participation in future events.

 One of the themes that resonated with me was the talk given by Tim Tingle when he urged the those in the audience who desired to be storytellers that they understand the "freeddom to tell the truth." It has been my mission to bring the truth about the story of African and African-Native people to a wider public and by doing so I hoped to stimulate more interest and thought about the plight and inter-personal relationships of black and red people.  By doing so I understood that for some people the truth about slavery and the five tribes it could make some people uncomfortable. However, I was gratified to hear Mr. Tingle also state that if everyone left this conference "happy" as a storyteller we would not "change a thing." Clearly Tim is correct in this sentiment, the story of the enslaved African among the five tribes is not a happy story but we must tell their story because it is very much a part of Indian Territory and the history of the five tribes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Enrollment of Children Follow That of the Mother"

Note: I began this entry on identity about a week ago in response to some discussions on the internet with some colleagues but thought it was not a good time to post it knowing I was going to attend the Storytellers conference in Muskogee and concerned that it might be construed as "offensive" because of the nature of the topic. It is never my intention to be offensive because my goal is to reach out and build bridges so people with a shared history can find a way to meet each other midspan on a bridge to recognition based on our shared history.

I'm glad I listened to my inner voice and held back on publishing my thoughts on identity because as I listened to the speakers at the conference yesterday one theme that seem to resonate with me was the way many of the presenters and some in the audience had been struggling with their "Indian" identity. One audience member really got me thinking when he rose to speak about the idea of continuing to use the term "Five Civilized Tribes." He and others felt that it may be time to stop using the term to "identify" themselves and it was pointed out that the title of the conference had intentionally been worded to avoid using the term; Five Civilized Tribes.  One of the reasons aside from it being an European term and not indigenous many felt it was time to throw off the yoke of oppression and begin to redefine themselves. The other "provocative" (and I mean that in a good way) was the consensus that by the tribes identifying themselves as "civilized" that it would be an affront and offense to the
 Plains tribes by implying that other native nations were somehow.........not civilized.

So you see this concept of identity is not exclusive to freedmen descendants who, after discovering their connections to the "Five Slave Holding Tribes" go through a similar self analysis on identity.

Well the blog that is now over a week old seems to be appropriate for me to post. One of the other things that stuck with me from the first day of attendance at the "5 Tribes Storyteller Conference" is the need to tell our stories as African and African-Native people who traveled on the trail of tears with the tribes as slaves and how they must have considered their identity among people who they shared a language, a culture and in some cases shared their blood.

The tribes say that a child follows the status of the mother; this was a custom during slavery and the antebellum period to maintain a slave population and deny the "white " or "Native American" ancestry of black people. As genealogist we know a person is the totality of all of their ancestors, but perhaps not in the Native American community when it came to black women and native men.

You will note on this card the children of an enrolled Indian Jesse McGee are considered "freedmen" not Indian. Why? because their Indian ancestry attributable to their father is dismissed in favor of continuing the myth of your "race" is predicated on the "race" of your mother.

Family of Jesse & Dora McGEE Chickasaw Freedmen # 572

Jesse McGEE Chickasaw by blood # 551

It is this general belief along with other tribal policies that made marriage between citizens by blood and persons of African and Negro blood a felony. It followed that children from this particular mixed relationship were considered then and now as "non-Indian."

Indian Citizen April 18, 1907 p1, col.1

As a result of these types of antebellum policies we have thousands of people today who descend from an “Indian ancestor” but denied recognition and citizenship. So how is it that on many of the "by blood" cards there are "Intermarried Whites" listed who were "non-Indian but enumerated on a "Chickasaw by blood" card? If the practice or custom was consistent and they "followed the status of their non-Indian mothers" why are these children listed as some fraction of Chickasaw Indian but the children of Jesse McGee only follow the "race" of their African descended mother?
Roberson BROWN Chickasaw by blood # 525

William F. WARREN Chickaaw by blood # 569

Is it fair to say this policy was flexible in it's enforcement and was basically applied for the purpose of preventing numerous "mixed blood freedmen" from receiving citizenship despite having a parent or ancestor who was considered a "blood" citizen? The so called custom and tradition of following the mother was used to determine a persons race but it appears the actual custom was used to determine "mixed blood freedmen" as "non-Indian." This practice of a child following their mother was nothing more than a practice that provided more slaves but it was not genealogically sound for determining ancestral lineage.
Joe BROWN Chickasaw by blood # 576

Cyrus Harris BROWN Chickasaw by blood 652

Dudley Nail DOAK Chickasaw by blood 531

The Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes passed laws to "prohibit" intermarriage of "Chickasaw and Choctaw by blood" with anyone of African descent and determining the children of this relationship "non-Indian." Again, this in no way should have reflected on the paternity or maternity of an individual. One can only conclude the political and racial views of the time gave way to these practices and allowed many people without any Indian blood to be enrolled on the blood roll as a citizen while at the same time dismissing thousands who were Chiksa lusta or Chahta lusa.

M1650 # 111 Callie NEWBERRY

At the same time as stated before, this practice also prevented people of mixed African-Native American blood to be placed on the proper roll for purposes of land allotment of three hundred and twenty acres as opposed to the forty acres a person received if they were determined to be descended from a former slave. Clearly more research will have to be conducted to determine if the Intermarried Whites received a land allotment based on their appearance as a citizen on the Dawes Cards?

Caldonia NEWBERRY "Mixed Blood" Chiksa lusta # 235 (rear)

What is even more curious is today the Five Slave Holding Tribes continue this practice of determining citizenship by relying on the “Dawes by Blood Roll.” An emphasis is placed on being “descended from someone on the Dawes Blood Roll” but they exclude the Dawes Freedmen Roll in that consideration and adhere to an policy that appears to have been flawed from the beginning.

Chickasaw Nation: "This department provides CDIB, citizenship and information to Chickasaws who are direct descendants of enrollees on the Dawes Commission Rolls. An applicant must be able to trace his/her heritage through bloodlines to an original enrollee listed on the Dawes Commission Rolls in order to obtain a CDIB. Required forms are available at the above address."

If the idea is to have a tribe of “Indians” that are traced to an ancestor on the Dawes Roll, you have to ask the question what makes an Indian? The other question that should be asked is whether the Dawes Rolls accurately depicts “Indian blood?” Does the roll determine who was an Indian or non-Indian? Are the rolls merely a tool to determine who was entitled to citizenship in the nation? Do the rolls minimize the population of African and African-Native people within the nation?One thing is certain, it is difficult to describe the Chickasaw final Dawes Roll strictly and exclusively as Chickasaw by Blood!

Chickasaw Freedwoman Harriet TAYLOR
Grandmother of Joe and Dillard PERRY(mixed blod Chickasaws)# 61

It was the case of Joe and Dillard PERRY that set the stage for the lawsuit of approximately two thousand people of mixed African-Choctaw and African-Chickasaw people who were denied recognition as Native American; to this day their descendants are being referred to as "Non-Indian."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Did Chickasaw Indians Give Their Former Slaves 40 Acres of Land?

I was reminded again how some little known history and some commonly held falsehoods could actually give a mistaken impression that an act occurred that has no basis in fact. What I refer to is the belief that all the former slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes were given land as a provision of the treaties signed in 1866 following the Civil War.

It is true the former slaves of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole nations received land as a result of the Dawes Commission allotment process. What I discovered was the common mistake that the Chickasaw Nation willingly gave 40 acres of land to the former slaves and their descendants that  lived in that nation.

Despite the fact former slaves that were held in bondage by citizens of the Chickasaw Nation received the equivalent of forty acres of land; it was not as a result of some altruistic gesture by the Chickasaw Indians.

Remember the Chickasaws did not adopt their former slaves as citizens and when it came to allotting land, the Chickasaw nation along with the Choctaw’s fought to recover all monies associated with the land given to Chickasaw Freedmen.

According to the newspaper article shown (Daily Oklahoman; January 25, 1910, p1 column 5) it is clear the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes sued the United States for the cost of the land given to more than four thousand men, women and children who were former slaves in the Chickasaw nation.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bettie's List - NEWBERRY & McGEE

The testimony of Dawes Commissioner A. S. McKennon is instructive for researchers who have an interest in Equity Case 7071. His statements reveal an incredible scenario where he purports not receiving any complaints by “African-Native individuals who were placed on the freedmen roll but insisted they were entitled to citizenship by blood based on their genealogical connections to someone who was considered a Choctaw or Chickasaw by blood.

There is one other curious revelation contained in the testimony of Commissioner McKennon; the man conducting the questioning before the Senate Committee, Melven Cornish was the stenographer in the same tent where McKennon is taking the testimony for enrollment. The reason Cornish is conducting the examination is because at the time of the hearing he had become the attorney for the Chickasaw Nation with the task of keeping a particular class of people off the citizen by blood roll.

The fact that McKennon and Cornish were taking enrollment information from African-Native people and placing them on the freedmen roll did not mean there was no complaints of an ancestor who was a Chickasaw or Choctaw Indian; in fact on many of the cards of the people McKennon and Cornish enrolled listed a parent (the overwhelming majority males) possessed Choctaw or Chickasaw blood.

For McKennon to insist that not a single individual sought inclusion on the blood roll is to demonstrate he was not present at the "citizen by blood tent" when and if someone applied for enrollment under that category. The Dawes Freedmen enrollment cards clearly demonstrated that these individuals gave McKennon and his stenographer Melven Cornish the names of the their parent and included the fact that the parent was either a Choctaw or Chickasaw Indian. It is only through the testimony of Charles Cohee, Thomas Norman and W. L. Bennett that we see the Dawes Commission took the position to ignore and not record any other evidence that might demonstrate that these men and women were descendants of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.

Caldonia Newberry Chickasaw Freedmen Card# 235 gave testimony her father was Benjamin Love who was a prominent citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and major slave owner. Caldonia and her children fought for years to be included as citizens by blood based on being descendants of Colonel Benjamin Love and yet, McKennon would have us believe he never heard of anyone seeking to be enrolled as a by blood citizen. Other African-Native people like Bettie Ligon, who would have been considered kin to Benjamin Love the man that brought her mother Margaret Ann Wilson to Indian Territory as a slave because Bettie’s father Robert Howard Love was kin to Benjamin Love.

This culture of Choctaw and Chickasaw men fathering children with women of African and African-Native descent during slavery or following the Civil War was repeated throughout Indian Territory and for the children who possessed the blood of their father’s somehow quietly going along with the enrollment process without objecting is difficult to believe because in some cases the father of these children made an effort to have their children enrolled on the citizen by blood rolls like Jesse McGee

Jesse and his freedman wife Dora were adamant about their children being placed on the on the Chickasaw by blood roll and waged an ongoing battle to have them listed as such. It remains to be seen if any of the descendants of Jesse McGee are citizens of the Chickasaw Nation today?

For more information and documentation follow link below: