This is the story of my people, a people whose racial, economic, social, cultural, and political identity was forged during the Allotment Period. It is an authentic American tale of how our government divided up Indian Territory, assigning acreage according to a dual system of blood quantum. In 1887, the Dawes Act launched policies that would parse land using a sliding scale for Indians of varying purity and another for those associated with the tribes whose blood was tinged with Black.
The legacy of this era, the long shadow of racial categorization, hangs over us to this day. Appeals for the removal of members of the Five Civilized Tribes with Black blood are being contested in our highest courts by families whose forebears served as stalwart tribal citizens for generations. Nearly 130 years later, I’m called to tell this story. It is the story of my family, my people, the Reds, Whites, and Blacks who converged during the Allotment Era, and survive today.
Allotment was nothing less than a master plan to curtail the racial integrity of indigenous peoples. Its antecedents lay in an earlier grand scheme that sought to redress America’s racial dilemma. During his years as an Indian fighter, a popular concept seized the mind of young Andrew Jackson. The future President, hardened by fierce combat with warring Indian Nations, was soon steeped in the urge to purge the East of their marauding bands. Jackson believed that the Indians should relinquish the land that Whites sought to make profitable. He championed a vast plan to push the indigenous peoples west, far removed from rapidly developing southern fields and towns.
Under the Jackson administration, the Removal Act of 1830 set in motion events whose impacts were legion. Many know the story of the resulting Trail of Tears, when federal agents rounded up thousands of Indians for a forced march to new settlements beyond the mighty Mississippi. Few know the fate of those who survived the trek. Fewer still ponder the long-term outcomes of Removal.
For the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole (the so called "Five Civilized Tribes"), establishing new communities in Indian Territory meant joining a pitched battle for power along the western frontier. Towns sprang up then disappeared in rapid succession. Rival factions of mixed and pure bloods vied for dominance, creating tribal policies that were quickly struck down by a federal government and its local commissioners that limited the autonomy promised to the tribes as an enticement to quit their native woodlands in the East.
Fragile coalitions were overlaid by shifting military alliances during the Civil War, sparking friction among tribal clans, mixed bloods, and opportunists of every stripe. Individuals as well as bands of Indians switched sides, sometimes back and forth. A dizzying series of hastily drafted treaties were penned and discarded as less formal pledges were sworn by rag tag bands to self-appointed leaders. Skirmishes with and among Indian raiders threatened the promise of a peaceful coexistence on the western front.
Fifty-seven years after the Removal Act, a further master plan emerged to address America’s uneasiness with the Indians in their midst. To force assimilation, tribes were parsed into family units to farm homesteads in imitation of the White settlers. The year was 1887 when the Allotment Era began. It would end in 1934 leaving behind the refuse of broken promises, racial divides, and tribal shifts that are little understood and for decades were scarcely touched upon in our historical canon. My people remember. I will tell you who we are.