Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Five Civilized Tribes and the "Freedmen"

(Click on the map for a larger image.)

The Washington Post has as bizarre a story of racial ideology and classification as you'd care to run across.

Back in the early 19th century Indians of the American Southeast reacted to a growing settler presence by aggressively exploiting as many of the opportunities of the new era as possible. For instance, the famous Sequoyah, though illiterate himself and not a speaker of English, realized that white settlers' ability to write was a big advantage, invented for the Cherokee language a syllabary. Cherokee schools and printing shops soon followed.

It was initiative and accomplishment like this that gained for these peoples the designation of the Five Civilized Tribes. It was not enough to protect them from settler envy and bad faith, and in the 1830s they were deported, with the connivance of President Andrew Jackson, to distant Oklahoma.

By that time the Five Civilized Tribes had also adopted the practice of using black slave labor. The slaves went with their owners to Oklahoma (the "Indian Territory") where they remained enslaved until the end of the Civil War, when the US government insisted that the slaves be freed and enrolled as members of the various tribes.

One hundred and forty some years laters, there is an effort to purge the ranks of the tribe of "freedmen" unless they can show some native descent.

This is a very unappealing story. Read the Post for the details.

Update: The Guardian (UK) reports on the results of the vote.


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