Descendants Of Freedmen Of The Five Civilized Tribes

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Myths regarding Freedmen, the Dawes Rolls and the Tribes

 

1)      "Freedmen are only after money and benefits and don’t want to build up the tribal culture". -  There is no evidence of this in actuality. Peoples of African descent who are enrolled tribal members  do attend stomp dances and learn the language of their nation. Some have written books regarding history of their tribe. (An example of such an Afro-Indian  is Mr. Bob Curry, an enrolled Chickasaw who has written the book, the "Chickasaw Rolls").  Many freedmen descendants are employed as engineers, doctors, lawyers, systems analysts, etc.; such individuals  would not even qualify for income based tribal assistance  programs such as housing assistance and have no need for Indian Health Service programs, since they can access insurance through their employers.  Descendants of Freedmen for the most part, have always known that they had Indian descent as well as African descent, and never have tried to hide it.  That is contrary to many of the  "white Indians" whose Indian descent was not discernable;  these people  hid their Indian descent until after the proliferation of Indian programs began.

2)      "Freedmen and their descendants have no Indian blood" - The historical record does not bear this out.  Approximately 1/3 of the original  Chickasaw Freedmen went to court to be transferred from the Freedmen rolls to the "Chickasaw by blood rolls". (Equity case 7071).   Each of these individuals had affidavits, witnesses, parents marriage licenses, etc. in order to substantiate their case.  That they did not prevail at trial was due to procedural grounds and racism in the court system, not to lack of evidence.  A look at  Dawes census cards also shows Freedmen with Indian descent. For example,  the Dawes census card of Ed Johnson, a Chickasaw Freedmen, indicates that his father was Frank Colbert, a deceased Chickasaw Indian who was his previous owner. However, Ed Johnson was not enrolled as a Chickasaw by blood by the Dawes Commission, but was enrolled as a Chickasw freedmen.  In another case,  Emmitt Homer, son of Ed Homer, a fullblood Choctaw Indian who was legally married to Annie Homer, a Creek Freedwoman; was enrolled as a child  by the Dawes Commission as a Creek Freedman, and not as a Choctaw by blood.

3)       " Indian Freedmen did not want to be classified as Indians by blood and wanted to be classified as Freedmen".  - Again, the historical record does not bear this out.  Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen only received 40 acres at the time of the allotment, while Choctaws and Chickasaws by blood received 320 acres as their share of land allotments.  It is inconceivable that an Afro-Indian Choctaw tribal member would willingly settle for 40 acres as  a Freedmen rather than 320 acres as an Indian by blood, given the choice.  Also, in the Chickasaw nation, the Chickasaw nation provided no education for Freedmen since they did not deem them to be Chickasaw citizens. Education for Chickasaw Freedmen was almost non-existent until Oklahoma Statehood, thus it would have been to an Afro-Chickasaw advantage to claim his Chickasaw ancestry in order to obtain education for his children.   Thus it is clear that it was the Dawes Commission who made the choice of whether an individual was enrolled as a Freedmen tribal citizen or a citizen by blood. It should also be noted that many tribal citizens of African descent were not fluent      English speakers and lacked education; and lacked understanding of the legal process and how to fight discrimination. 

4)      "Enrollment of the Freedmen descendants  will bankrupt the 5 tribes" - This myth also does not hold up to scrutiny. The enrollment of Seminole Freedmen did not bankrupt the Seminole nation, which continued to enroll Seminole Freedmen as tribal members until recently.  Surveys show that the average individual of African descent has a higher income than the average non-African Indian. Thus, the newly enrolled Descendants of Freedmen would be less likely to use the needs based tribal services.  It must also be noted that the amount of Federal funding is tied to the number of tribal members. Thus, larger tribes such as the Navaho or the Cherokee receive a larger share of Federal Funds for programs than smaller nations such as the Peoria or the Shawnee. 

5)      "The Dawes Rolls are  accurate rolls of tribal members blood quantums" - This again is a myth, a genealogical search of different families shows brothers and sisters of the same parents being enrolled with varying degrees of Indian blood. And again, the rolls were set up to generally record degrees of blood of those tribal members of Indian descent who had no African descent. If a tribal citizen was recorded as an adopted white citizen, he clearly had no Indian blood. However, if a tribal citizen was enrolled as a Freedmen, this did not  by definition indicate a lack of Indian blood. Indian blood of Freedmen simply was not recorded.         

6)      "Freedmen Descendants are wannabe Indians" - Again the historical record shows this to be a myth. Unlike many other currently unenrolled individuals, Freedmen descendants do have legitimate treaty rights, and ancestors with legitimate ties to the 5 nations. Many also do have documented Indian blood, although the blood degree is not listed on the final roll .  Although it is true that the majority of the tribal members prior to the civil war did not have slaves of African descent; the unpaid labor of these former slaves allowed slaveholders to have extra money to provide advanced educational opportunities for their children that helped them in their later positions as tribal leaders in dealing with the US government. (An example of such an individual was WP Ross,  a member of the slaveholding Ross family who became a Cherokee Chief after the Civil War , a "mixed blood " white Indian  and who  was also  a relative of longtime Cherokee chief  John Ross). Thus, the entire nations benefited from the slave labor, not just a few individuals. 

 

7)      Freedmen “Buffalo soldiers “ were used to oppress other citizens of the Five nations – Again this is  only a myth.  After the Revolutionary war, the US government forbade free blacks to serve as armed military troops. Thus there were no black soldiers participating in the “Trails of Tears” of the five nations during the 1830s.  There were black soldiers who volunteered and served in the military after the Civil War.. However, these troops mostly consisted of what were called by the five nations Citizens, “State Negroes”, i.e.  Black citizens of the United States as opposed to the black Indians who were citizens of the 5 nations. The reason for this was that there were few job opportunities in the United States for free black men and the army offered a steady paycheck. The 5 nations citizen freedmen had more opportunities than the US citizen blacks,  as they could work the land in common with other citizens and  were able to receive education, training, and  employment , including opening small businesses and serving in the tribal governments much  easier in the 5 nations than other people of African descent could in the United States. Thus the 5 nations black Indian freedmen generally worked to build up their own nations.                                                                                                                              The Buffalo soldiers were organized into segregated infantry and Calvary units, almost always commanded by white officers. These black soldiers were used to search for certain Native leaders among the plains Indians and to guard the 5 nations citizens against some of the plains tribes. It must also be brought out that only about 10% of the military at that time consisted of black troops; as the mood of the times would not have allowed huge numbers of armed black troops, even in the territories.  Also, black troops were not present at the massacres of indigenous people perpetrated by generals such as Custer at the Battle of the Washita against the mostly women and children of Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle. There were no black troops in the 7th Cavalry who shot the  unarmed women  and children of  Lakota Chief  Big Foots band under orders of  Colonel Forsyth  at Wounded Knee. Thus, tales of mistreatment by the 5 nations Freedmen of their fellow tribal citizens  due to their military service are definitely untrue.

8)      “The Freedmen  all gave up their citizenships in the  5 nations after being bought off.  Again, this is not true. A few Choctaw freedmen, in 1885, did  take a cash payment and gave up their right to Choctaw citizenship. The number of people who accepted the cash payment were less than 100 people, including women and children. The vast number of Choctaw Freedmen elected to remain in the Choctaw nation, the land of their fathers. .

 

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