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Native Americans in Oklahoma


Picture of Oklahoma
Picture of Oklahoma

Following the War of 1812 (1812-1815) the U.S. government decided to move Native Americans west of the Mississippi River to open up new land for white settlers from the East. One of the nation’s most populous Native American regions covered western North and South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi and was inhabited by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee. Whites referred to these peoples collectively as the Five Civilized Tribes because they resembled European nations in organization and economy, and because they quickly incorporated many European imports, such as fruit trees, into their way of life. For generations these peoples had been powerful commercial and military allies of European colonial powers, and many had adopted white styles of dress, agricultural and commercial practices, and politics.

Acculturation, however, had not won them friendship with whites. Southern state governments and Southerners in the United States Congress regularly demanded that the federal government remove these peoples so that white farmers and planters could use their land. This was especially true after 1829, when gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia.

Federal officials proceeded to negotiate removal treaties with each of the Five Civilized Tribes; in these treaties, the native peoples promised to give up their land in exchange for annual distributions of food or money and land in what is now Oklahoma. Treaties were usually negotiated with only a portion of the tribe, but the entire group was held to the agreement.

In 1834 the federal government created what was called Indian Territory, lands west of the Mississippi River that originally included not only the area of present-day Oklahoma, but much of the area of present-day Kansas and Nebraska as well. Within Indian Territory, the treaties promised, tribal authority of the Native American nations was assured. A federal commission first secured pledges of peace with the Wichita, Kiowa, Comanche, and other native peoples already in the area of what is now Oklahoma. Beginning in the 1830s and continuing until 1842, the federal government began the forced removal of the eastern peoples to Indian Territory. The resulting Trail of Tears, as the Native Americans called it, uprooted tens of thousands of native people, and drove them (many in irons) into what is now Oklahoma. Among some native peoples as many as two of every five died along the way. This was particularly true of the Creeks, whose removal cost them two entire generations, both the very young and the very old.

Oklahoma’s new Native American settlers created a culture influenced by their life along the borders of the Spanish, French, and British colonial empires and their exposure to U.S. settlements. A substantial mixed-blood population appeared in each native community, and many Native Americans bought and sold slaves, owned plantations, or became businessmen, teachers, editors, lawyers, or judges. A Cherokee, Sequoyah, also called George Guess, had developed a written form for the Cherokee spoken language. He identified the 85 basic sounds in the Cherokee language and gave each a symbol, creating the Cherokee alphabet, or syllabary. Using Sequoyah’s syllabary, the Cherokee had become literate between 1821 and 1828. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek had each adopted written constitutions by 1861. The Native American republics they established had well-ordered governments based on law, and their communities were generally more orderly than white towns in the West. To support themselves, they cleared and planted farms and plantations, worked ranches, built towns and public schools, and published newspapers. "Oklahoma" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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