Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UKB and Cherokee Nation Today

Hello, everyone –

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and didn’t overdo too much. It was a foodfest in my neighborhood and it was really fun! In this installment we will bring the story of the UKB and the Cherokee Nation to the present. As the Cherokee Nation began to recover its sovereign powers in the 1970s, after having being squelched for most of the twentieth century by the “bureaucratic imperialism” of the BIA as the judge in the Harjo case described it, the UKB was dwindling. As the Cherokee Nation elected its first Chief since statehood, developed a superseding Constitution, reinstated its citizens, reconstituted its Tribal Council (also a result of the Harjo case), established Cherokee Nation Industries and investigated other economic development enterprises, the UKB receded and was basically defunct by the end of the 1970s.

But in 1979, there was a particularly nasty runoff in the Principal Chief’s race between incumbent Ross Swimmer and his opponent, Jim Gordon. Swimmer defeated Gordon, and Gordon reacted by resurrecting the UKB in the 1980s. My colleague on the Tribal Council, Jack Baker, has shared with me that a good friend of his (who was a relative of Gordon’s) told him many times that Gordon had jump started the UKB specifically to compete with the Cherokee Nation. Whether that is just hearsay or not, who knows? But certainly that was the way things played out in the 1980s as Jim Gordon became chief of the UKB and began to assert for the first time that the UKB was not a corporate entity within the Cherokee Nation, but was a separate government that held the same territory and jurisdiction as the Cherokee Nation within what had been the Cherokee Nation’s historic boundaries as established by treaty in 1828. Unfortunately, the personal enmity of Gordon for Swimmer seems to have been the basis for the emerging competition in that decade between the UKB and the Cherokee Nation, but that is certainly open to interpretation.

Less open to interpretation, however, is the status of the UKB as it began to be tested in federal courts by the early 1990s. Once again, my caveat: although the UKB and its supporters will offer a different interpretation than the one I am presenting here, ultimately no one’s interpretation matters except that of the federal courts. And the interpretation I will offer on the legal points is that of the federal courts. In 1990, a case called Ross v. Neff had been decided by the federal court. The upshot of the case was that the tribes in Oklahoma had jurisdiction for law enforcement purposes over anything within their historic boundaries that comprised “Indian Country.” Under contemporary definitions, “Indian Country” is defined as (1) tribal trust properties (such as reservations or other lands that the United States holds in trust for a tribe), (2) individual trust properties, such as allotments, and (3) dependent Indian communities such as pueblos in New Mexico. The state has no jurisdiction in these instances, and this case led to the establishment of the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service to provide law enforcement protection to Cherokee Nation citizens on such properties. But it also became evident that the ruling likely meant the Cherokee Nation had jurisdiction in other areas as well.

At that time, the Director of Justice for the Cherokee Nation, attorney Chad Smith (later Principal Chief from 1999-2011), suspected that the Cherokee Nation could assert jurisdiction for taxation purposes within its historic boundaries. He began to develop tax codes and the Cherokee Nation, under then-Chief Wilma Mankiller’s leadership, negotiated compacts with the state for tobacco sales by smoke shops owned by individuals on trust properties within the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries who were licensed by the Cherokee Nation (hence the licensing and some taxation revenue to the Nation). Although many people did not understand the implications of compacting with the state and saw it as a reduction of sovereignty, it was, in fact, one of the earliest acknowledgments by the state of sovereign authority held by the Cherokee Nation.

In 1992, the UKB decided that it would follow the Cherokee Nation’s lead and also issue licenses to UKB members so they could open smoke shops. Understanding that this was a full tilt challenge by the UKB to the Cherokee Nation’s exclusive jurisdiction within its historic boundaries, the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, as directed by the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission, raided UKB smoke shops and shut them down. The UKB took several cases into court attempting to establish their right to also acquire land for the purpose of establishing smoke shops, and to license and sell tobacco, but in every instance, the federal court agreed with Director of Justice Chad Smith’s legal analysis of the situation and the action of the Cherokee Nation. (This is the source of the extreme ill-will the UKB bears toward Smith to this day).

The language of some of the cases includes:

1991 – UKB v. Secretary of the Interior, “…the 1946 Act, while recognizing the United Keetoowahs as a band of Indians within the meaning of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, can in no way be read as authorizing the Band to exercise concurrent jurisdiction over Cherokee lands within the jurisdiction of the former Cherokee Reservation. Furthermore, because the subject lands fall within the Cherokee Nation’s former reservation their consent is required…Therefore, we must affirm the Acting Area Director’s decision of December 19, 1985 and require the concurrence of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma before the Band’s request for trust land can properly be evaluated by the Muskogee Area Office.”

(So the UKB may not place land into trust within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction, which to date the Cherokee Nation has never given, despite several land-into-trust applications filed by the UKB during the twelve years of the Smith administration.)

1993 – Buzzard v. Oklahoma Tax Commission, “ …If the restriction against alienation were sufficient to make any land purchased by the UKB Indian Country, the UKB could remove land from state jurisdiction and force the federal government to exert jurisdiction over that and without either sovereign having any voice in the matter. Nothing in…the cases concerning land trust land indicates that the Supreme Court intended for Indian tribes to have such unilateral power to create Indian country.”

(The UKB cannot assert that its land is “Indian Country” according to the legal definition simply because it is owned by an Indian tribe, and therefore cannot assert jurisdiction different from that of the state).

1992-93 – UKB v. Mankiller, “…The court has previously determined in prior cases that the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty is preeminent to that of the UKB in Cherokee Nation Indian Country.”

(The case was dismissed due to the sovereign immunity of the Cherokee Nation from suit. The court, however, acknowledged at several places in its ruling the precedents determining that the Cherokee Nation has exclusive territorial jurisdiction within its boundaries.)

2005 – Arkansas Riverbed Settlement, the UKB attempted to claim a portion of the Cherokee Nation’s share of the $40 million settlement over its ownership of the Arkansas Riverbed. The judge in the case noted that the UKB based its claims to the Arkansas riverbed "on the same statutes and treaties" that gives the Cherokee Nation sole ownership interest in the Arkansas riverbed and banks within its borders, and that the Cherokee Nation that owned the Arkansas riverbed and banks at the time of allotment is the same Cherokee Nation that exists today. The judge also stated that, "The Cherokee Nation also correctly notes that in the Settlement Act, Congress recognized the Cherokee Nation as a ‘federally recognized Indian tribe... [that] has maintained a continuous government-to-government relationship with the United States since the earliest years of the Union.’"

Thus the Cherokee Nation believes the matter has been settled for twenty years: according to the federal courts, the UKB has no right to place land into trust within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction, and does not have jurisdiction of any kind within the fourteen county area of northeastern Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation’s historic territory. This means that the casino the UKB operates in Tahlequah, which is not on trust land as is required of every other Indian tribe in the United State, is illegal under Oklahoma state law. The National Indian Gaming Commission has no jurisdiction over the issue, since it is not on trust land. Therefore it would be up to the county and the state to close it. Instead, a former District Attorney in Cherokee County, Dianne Barker-Harrold, refused to take action against the tribe. After eight years as DA, in 1999, she was hired by the UKB as their Attorney General. Likewise, county district judge John Garrett issued an injunction against closing the UKB casino in the early 2000s, which was challenged by the Oklahoma Attorney General. Garrett was later appointed as the Chief Justice of the UKB’s Supreme Court. (In a recent ugly twist, the Tribal Council of the Cherokee Nation just confirmed Chief Baker’s appointment of John Garrett to the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission. I voted against his appointment, along with five other councilors, but the good ol’ boy system is strong around here, and Garrett was confirmed.)

Likewise, the UKB, which has no taxation jurisdiction within the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries, issues car tags as well, which is a taxation function. This is also illegal on the face of it, but I have heard Chief Smith state that he didn’t pursue it since the relationship between the two entities was already so bad.

Throughout the Smith administration, the Cherokee Nation was aggressive in defending itself against UKB encroachment, and the Cherokee Nation prevailed in every single case, without exception. But in the tenth year of his tenure, a new Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Larry EchoHawk, brought a different sentiment to the situation than the federal courts and his predecessors had had. That story, and the talking points for your action, will be the next, and final installment to date of this story.

Julia

(Dr. Julia Coates is an At-Large councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The UKB and the "Punch Line

Hello, everyone –

I apologize for the delay in getting this next installment to you, but Christmas has overtaken me. I’m sure you can all relate to that! As we have seen in previous installments, by the 1970s, we had a Cherokee Nation that was beginning to stand up again for the first time since Oklahoma statehood, and we had the United Keetoowah Band that operated in conjunction with the Cherokee Nation, always stating that they were, in fact, an incorporated entity within the Cherokee Nation, rather than separate from it. By the early 1970s, the Cherokee Nation had established both a financial basis once again, by interest earned on a settlement from Indian Claims Commission concerning the 1893 sale of the Cherokee Outlet, and there had been an election for Principal Chief in 1971 – the first since statehood. W.W. Keeler, who had already served by Presidential appointment for twenty-two years, won that election by a landslide. One of Keeler’s initiatives was to develop a new Constitution, and for this he turned to a network of grassroots organizations that had emerged called the Original Cherokee Community Organizations (OCCO). Many members of the United Keetoowah Band were involved in these groups as well, and the OCCO groups acted as the entities that in large part drafted a new Constitution for the Cherokee Nation.

In 1975, that Constitution went into effect. Article XVI was contained within, which reads, “The provisions of this Constitution overrule and supersede the provisions of the Cherokee Nation Constitution enacted the 6th day of September 1839.” This sort of clause is seen in every Constitution and/or treaty that the Cherokee Nation adopted throughout its existence and is critical in creating a continuum of legal government from one document to the next. In short, the Cherokee Nation that ratified this 1975 Constitution is the same Cherokee Nation that ratified the preceding Constitution in 1839. There has been no break, no termination of this government, in the intervening years. The 1975 Constitution was accepted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, making it clear that the Bureau accepted at that time that the contemporary Cherokee Nation was the same Nation that had existed in the 1800s, not a different entity.

But even more significantly, in the following year of 1976, the federal courts also acknowledged the continuous, unbroken existence of the Cherokee Nation. In a case called Harjo v. Kleppe, filed in the US District Court in DC by a councilor of the Muscogee Creek Nation, Allen Harjo, , Federal District Judge Bryant issued a ruling that addressed many of the major issues the Cherokee Nation currently has today with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Although the case specifically concerned issues brought by a Creek councilor, the ruling applies to all the Five Tribes, since the legal precedents involved all five, including the Cherokee Nation. Follow closely, for this case is the punch line!

In Harjo v. Kleppe, Judge Bryant said that although the intent of Congress from about 1890 to 1906 had been to terminate its relationships with the Five Tribes, that termination had never been statutorily achieved, and instead its relationships with the governments of the Five Tribes had been expressly and deliberately continued in the 1906 Five Tribes Act. There is no “old” Cherokee Nation and “new” Cherokee Nation (as the UKB and its supporters, now also including Assistant Secretary EchoHawk, assert), but only one continuous Cherokee Nation, just as the Bureau itself had acknowledged only a year earlier by its acceptance of the superseding 1975 Cherokee Nation Constitution.

The Judge also stated that the passage of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (OIWA) in 1936 did not have any bearing on the existence of the Five Tribes. It was intended to offer tribes a way to re-organize essentially as corporate entities for the purpose of small business and cultural development. The existence of tribes as governments, especially of the Five Tribes which had strong legacies as republics in the Indian Territory, was not affected. The United States was already “recognizing” them, so there was no requirement that they re-organize in this fashion. Thus the argument on the part of the UKB and its supporters that it is the “older brother” of the Cherokee Nation “of Oklahoma,” as they insist on misnaming the Cherokee Nation, is entirely false. The UKB was established as a corporate entity in 1946. The Cherokee Nation has existed as a recognized sovereign government through its treaties with Great Britain and the United States since 1721. And the Cherokee Nation is the government that the territorial land base and all jurisdictions and governmental interests in the Indian Territory were ceded to in 1828. The United Keetoowah Band did not exist at that time; the Cherokee Nation has never not existed since that time.

And finally, the judge in this case also stated that if it wanted to, the Cherokee Nation was legally entitled to develop a new Constitution either under the terms of the OIWA (if it wanted to reorganize under that Act) or as an inherent sovereign, since it continued to hold that status. The Cherokee Nation, through several administrations, has continued to maintain and defend its status as an “inherent” sovereign. To re-organize under the federal statute would greatly reduce our level of sovereignty, since it would give the Bureau greater oversight of our government, such as approval authority over our election processes, elections, and constitutional process.

So thirty-five years ago, a federal court had already addressed the three major conflicts that we are having with the BIA today: (1) it said that we are not a “successor” to the old Cherokee Nation, but in fact, are still the same Cherokee Nation; (2) it said we are not required to organize under the OIWA; and (3) it said that we have the right to adopt Constitutions without necessitating BIA approval over the document the citizens of the Cherokee Nation choose to ratify. Today, the BIA is directly contradicting the first point by granting the UKB the same level of jurisdiction within the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries, and it is strongly trying to intimidate us in contradiction to the second two points. (These are the talking points for your action letters to Principal Chief Baker, the Council and the BIA. I will delineate them more concisely in the very near future. We are almost up to date on this story.)

And the punch line to the punch line: the attorney for the BIA who lost the Harjo v. Kleppe case in 1976 was named Scott Keep. The attorney who is advising Assistant Secretary EchoHawk today on these matters is (wait for it)…Scott Keep.

Once again, law and history are very subject to interpretation. This specific installment is particularly contested by the UKB and its supporters, but as I consistently state, it doesn’t matter what anyone’s interpretation is. The only one that matters is that of the federal courts. And this is very directly the federal court’s interpretation. No appeal was heard, subsequent cases have relied on this one as a precedent, and so this stands to this day.

In the next installment, we will at last uncover the reasons for the rising tensions between the UKB and the Cherokee Nation in the past thirty years.

Julia

(Dr. Julia Coates is an At-Large councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cherokee-Keetoowah in the mid 20th Century

Hello, everyone –

In our continuing saga of the Cherokee-Keetoowah relationships, we move into the mid-20th century. Before starting off, I will add my caveat once again: history and law are very interpretive endeavors. There will be those who disagree with this interpretation, but in the end, the only interpretation that matters is that of the federal courts. And the courts to date have supported the interpretation I am offering to you.

In 1937 the Keetoowahs had been rebuffed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in their attempt to organize as a “band or tribe of Indians” under the terms of the OIWA. The Bureau is an agency of the Executive Branch, but the other branches of government have also been empowered to create and/or recognize tribal groups as well. So in the mid-1940s, the politically-oriented Keetoowah organization(s) of that era gave it another shot. This time they approached the legislative branch, the Congress, with a request to organize as a band or tribe of Indians. And this time, in 1946, the Congress did what the Bureau had refused to do almost a decade earlier and they passed legislation recognizing the “Keetoowah Indians of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as a band or tribe of Indians under the meaning of the [Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act]” (emphasis mine). (See attachment).

So even as Congress created this new tribe or band for the purposes of accessing the programs and benefits offered by the OIWA, they acknowledged, just as the Bureau had previously, that the Keetoowahs were a part of the Cherokee Nation. As a statute, the OIWA was passed in an era when the idea of modern tribal governmental sovereignty was probably just a gleam in a young dreamer’s eye. Certainly it was not on the radar of federal legislators. The intent of the OIWA seems to be about forming incorporated entities for small business development, especially cultural enterprises. And it seems that Congress may have approached the incorporation of the Keetoowahs from this perspective, indicating even as they did so, that they understood that this incorporated group was still within the government called the Cherokee Nation. But it is hard to know in hindsight what Congress may have understood they were doing.

It is more reliably known that the Keetoowahs were attempting simply to incorporate their organization, not to be recognized as a separate or different government from the Cherokee Nation. A former official of the United Keetoowah Band has team taught the Cherokee Nation History Course with me in the past. He has shared with classes that in the 1980s, he was fortunate to interview, in the Cherokee language, some of the “old timers” who were instrumental in the organizing effort of the 1940s. And he states unequivocally that it was never their thought to be separate from the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation was their government. They were simply trying to access additional services offered by the legislation. (Those recorded interviews, he believes, are archived at the University of Arkansas, but one would have to speak Cherokee in order to understand them!)

The incorporated group created in 1946 began to draft a Constitution, as they were allowed to do under the OIWA. In 1950, that document was approved by the BIA, in accordance with the Act, which states that all Constitutions, by-laws, and revisions of such documents, must be approved by the Bureau for groups organized under this statute. (This is one of the main reasons the Cherokee Nation has refused to reorganize under the OIWA). By this document, their official name was established as the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (UKBCIO). But we normally refer to them as simply the UKB. They elected officers, including their first “Chief,” the Rev. Jim Pickup, and thus were launched.

Their Constitution stated that they would have elections every four years, but by 1962, they had never had an election after the first, so they were ordered by the Bureau to have another, which they did the following year. At that time, Rev. Pickup was re-elected to be their “Chief,” and Rachel Quinton, former Principal Chief Chad Smith’s grandmother, was elected their Secretary. Beginning in the early 1960s, there are some records of their meetings and efforts which were clearly centered around economic development enterprises. Interestingly, in the minutes of their meetings throughout the 1960s, the interactions between the UKB and Principal Chief W.W. Keeler are constant. With Keeler himself, or through his representative, Earl Boyd Pierce, the desire of the Cherokee Nation to not step on the efforts of the UKB, as well as the UKB’s constant repetitions that Keeler is their Chief and the Cherokee Nation is their government, the support that each offered the other is obvious. but it also obvious that at many points, the Bureau tried to bypass the

But evidence of the UKB’s organizational difficulties is also in the minutes and correspondence from this time. There are repeated remarks about the inability to recruit people to serve as officers, resignations from positions, and a general lack of time or interest on the part of community members to participate. Any fledgling community organization will recognize these issues as constant obstacles to growth.

And by the mid-1970s, the UKB had largely floundered as the Cherokee Nation began to revitalize once more. With the passage of the Principal Chief’s Act in 1970, which established a mechanism for the Five Tribes to elect their Chiefs again for the first time since Oklahoma statehood, and the federal Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975, a new policy era opened which enabled tribes to push the envelope further and further in re-establishing sovereign powers that had largely been stripped by federal paternalism throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. As had happened in 1906 when the anticipated demise of the Cherokee Nation had not occurred, a rejuvenated Cherokee Nation in the 1970s rendered obsolete the intended purpose of the Keetoowah groups of each era – to find a way to continue with some semblance of an organization if the Cherokee Nation no longer existed.

And then the dam broke for all the Five Tribes! Tomorrow we will get to the punch line for all of this –

Julia (Dr. Julia Coates is an At-Large Councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Keetoowahs and Cherokee Nation enter Contested Waters

From this point on, the story of the Keetoowahs and the Cherokee Nation gets into contested waters. Before setting off on today’s episode, I will note again that both history and law are very interpretive endeavors. The version I am giving is one that is contested at some points by the UKB and its supporters. But the thing to remember is that in the end, it doesn’t matter what my version is, or what the UKB’s version is, or what anyone’s version is. The only version that matters is the one that is accepted by the federal courts. And the one I am offering here is the one that the courts have upheld – several times now.

The date of termination of the Cherokee Nation had been set as March 4, 1906. But tribal termination requires a piece of legislation to be achieved. And on March 4, 1906, no such legislation had been drafted or introduced. Instead of termination legislation, a different kind of legislation was in the works. (As an aside, the idea that the United States could put an end to the Cherokee Nation is laughable. Short of outright genocide, that is not within their power. So “termination” really means that they would end their recognition of us, just as the US does not recognize certain other governments in the world, for instance.)

On April 26, 1906, the Five Tribes Act was passed in Congress. Intended to tie up loose ends resulting from the complexity of the allotment process, the legislation was also necessitated by the fact that oil had been discovered midway through the allotment process. If tribal governments were terminated, the leasing process would be complicated by the need to negotiate with literally tens of thousands of individual allottees. It was an expediency to continue the five tribal governments for the purpose of signing off on leases, transfers of allotments, etc.

Although tying up the final affairs of the allotment process, the Act reversed the march toward tribal terminations. Instead of ending the federal relationship and recognition with the Five Tribes, Section 28 the 1906 Act expressly continued “in full force and effect” the governments of the Five Tribes! (See first attachment)

So the Cherokee Nation, or actually the federal recognition of the Cherokee Nation, was never terminated. This counters one of the arguments of the UKB and its supporters that there is an “old” Cherokee Nation that ended in 1906 and a “new” Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that came into existence in 1975 with the Constitution of that year. But the Five Tribes Act of 1906 does not terminate the Cherokee Nation, in fact quite clearly does exactly the opposite. Again, although the UKB and its supporters may disagree, the only interpretation that matters is that of the federal court – and the federal court has said several times that the contemporary Cherokee Nation is the same government that existed in the 1800s. There has been no legal break in the continuum of its existence.

In the first decades of the twentieth century the ceremonial Nighthawk Keetoowah Society continued to function at ceremonial grounds throughout northeastern Oklahoma. Although the number of practitioners began to diminish again after the rejuvenation of the allotment period, there was a continuous lineage of practice that exists to this day. The political Keetoowah Society, Inc., also dwindled as an incorporated entity, after the government of the Cherokee Nation was “expressly continued” by federal statute, rather than terminated, since their action had been taken only in anticipation of the Cherokee Nation’s loss of recognition. These Keetoowahs resumed their grassroots, community-oriented activities and in these early decades of the 1900s, several organizations, all offshoots of the old Keetoowah Society, Inc., emerged, functioned for a time, and then died out.

These organizations and others were important from the 1920s through the ‘40s as the Cherokee Nation’s government only nominally functioned throughout those years. A consortium of grassroots organizations thus became the primary collective decision-making mechanism among the Cherokees. By the 1930s, as federal Indian policy was beginning to be somewhat more favorable toward Indians, legislation was passed in 1934 called the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). It gave tribes that would agree to reorganize under its corporate business model the possibility to access additional federal programs for Indians, including supports for cultural arts enterprises and lending cooperatives for small business development.

Initially tribes in Oklahoma rejected inclusion in the IRA, but after observing some of the benefits to those tribes that had organized under it, a number of tribes in Oklahoma got together to request a similar act that would pertain to them. And so, in 1936, the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (OIWA) was passed. This Act was similar to the IRA in that it offered the same types of programs. It was also similar in that it demanded a corporate model of organization, rather than a governmental model, of those tribes that adopted it. (See attachment). While the tribes in the central and western part of Oklahoma organized under this legislation, initially none of the Five Tribes did.

But within the Cherokee Nation, the politically-oriented Keetoowah organizations made an appeal in 1937 to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be organized as a “…band or tribe of Indians…” under the terms of Section 3 of the OIWA. The Bureau rejected this petition on the basis that the Keetoowahs were not different from the Cherokee Nation, in fact were a part of the Cherokee Nation, and the Cherokee Nation was already recognized by the United States.

But the question remained: without formally organizing under the OIWA, would the Cherokee Nation be able to access the programs it offered?

That question would not be answered for several more decades and only after Congress created additional complications. More tomorrow…

Julia.
(Dr. Julia Coates is a councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)

Keetoowah and the Civil War Era

Today we will continue with the history of the conflict between the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band (UKB). In my previous update I outlined the emergence of the Keetoowah Society as a political movement from the Civil War era and stated that the name “Keetoowah” began to be used about this organization at this time. This is important because one of the arguments the UKB makes today to try to support its assertions that it is a government of equal jurisdictional standing with the Cherokee Nation goes back to an even earlier era and involves an extreme revisioning of Cherokee history.

 In the past eight or ten years, the UKB has claimed that “the Keetoowahs” (and again, this is obscure as to whether this means the political or the ceremonial group) are the descendants of the Old Settlers, those Cherokees who emigrated first to Arkansas in 1817, and then were relocated to the Indian Territory in 1828. These dates are prior to the Trail of Tears, and the both of the treaties involved conveyed tracts of land to the Cherokee Nation from the United States. The intent of this revisioning of Cherokee history has been to suggest that the Keetoowahs were the original and earliest occupiers of the land base that is now the disputed jurisdictional area, occupied it before the Cherokee Nation did, in other words.

 These claims can be easily disputed and dismissed. First, it is impossible to link the founders or the membership of the UKB in the twentieth century exclusively as descendants of the Old Settlers. Second, as I stated yesterday, there are no references to any group called “Keetoowah” in the extensive documentary record prior to 1858. Third, and most significantly, the government to which the land in Arkansas was ceded in 1817 and in the Indian Territory in 1828 was the Cherokee Nation. Land is not conveyed by treaty to individuals or sub-groups within a citizenry, but to a government. And that government was very clearly “the Cherokee Nation” as stated in both treaties, and so that is the government that took ownership of those lands.

 There is no question that history and law are two fields that are very interpretive, and it is not unusual for historians, like lawyers, to argue over the meanings and merits of the past. But the UKB’s rewriting of this aspect of the Cherokee Nation’s history is not one that is accepted or repeated by any reputable historian. In fact, one doesn’t find this interpretation anywhere except in the UKB’s own literature and in its museum. It would be easy to dismiss this claim, and most do, but for unknowing members of the media and the public, these assertions made by the UKB and its supporters have been picked up uncritically from press releases and propaganda and have been repeated to the point that many people simply accept these misrepresentations as truth. So it is important to understand that the emergence of the Keetoowah Society as a political and military organization was in the Civil War, and not before.

 Now, I will pick up from yesterday’s story and move on. The Keetoowah Society experienced a split in its membership around 1900, midway through the allotment era. For most of the 1890s, the clear intent of the federal government had been to terminate its relationship with and recognition of the Cherokee Nation. Through several pieces of legislation, including the Curtis Act of 1898 which abolished Cherokee law and courts and extended Arkansas law over the Indian Territory, and the Cherokee Agreements of 1901-1902 which legislated March 4, 1906 as the day when the government of the Cherokee Nation would cease to exist in the eyes of the United States, every move on the part of the US had been to dismantle the governments of all the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole). In these extraordinary times, the Keetoowahs were fairly unified in their opposition to allotment.

 But social scientists have frequently noted that in desperate times, religious revitalizations frequently occur within a People, and this happened among the Cherokees as well. A ceremonial practice, which had been almost lost among the Cherokees by this time, was rejuvenated in large part by the efforts of Redbird Smith (great-grandfather of former Chief Chad Smith), who rekindled the ceremonial fire at a newly-established ceremonial grounds at Blackgum Mountain in present-day Sequoyah County. Very quickly, thousands of Cherokees began to participate once again, and Redbird led these practitioners away from the politically-organized Keetoowah Society toward a stated goal of “getting back to the old ways” – in short, of re-focusing on ceremonial practices.

 But these ceremonialists, who had the moniker “Nighthawk Keetoowahs” bestowed upon them by the local white media in Muskogee, were far from uninvolved in the events of their Nation. Coupled with their revived spiritual practices, the Nighthawks also engaged in a campaign of passive resistance to enrollment for allotment. They evaded federal commissioners and returned unwanted allotment deeds unopened. While the Nighthawks began to be identified as a separate movement due to their return to ceremonial practice, the politically-oriented members of the Keetoowah Society persisted with an organization as well. They were active in the Sequoyah Convention in 1905 (an attempt by the Five Tribes to create an Indian state out of their territories). In that same year, when it appeared the Cherokee Nation was soon going to be legislated out of existence, they applied for a federal charter of incorporation, which they received, establishing the Keetoowah Society, Inc.

By the end of the allotment era, the Keetoowah Society had thus split into two distinct movements and organizations. But in 1906, something amazing happened. And that’s tomorrow’s story!

 Julia
(Dr. Julia Coates is a councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Allotment Era Keetoowah Societies


Subject: Cherokee Nation Update: The Allotment Era Keetoowah Societies



Hello, everyone –

Today we will continue with the history of the conflict between the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band (UKB).  In my previous update I outlined the emergence of the Keetoowah Society as a political movement from the Civil War era and stated that the name “Keetoowah” began to be used about this organization at this time. This is important because one of the arguments the UKB makes today to try to support its assertions that it is a government of equal jurisdictional standing with the Cherokee Nation goes back to an even earlier era and involves an extreme revisioning of Cherokee history.

In the past eight or ten years, the UKB has claimed that “the Keetoowahs” (and again, this is obscure as to whether this means the political or the ceremonial group) are the descendants of the Old Settlers, those Cherokees who emigrated first to Arkansas in 1817, and then were relocated to the Indian Territory in 1828. These dates are prior to the Trail of Tears, and the both of the treaties involved conveyed tracts of land to the Cherokee Nation from the United States. The intent of this revisioning of Cherokee history has been to suggest that the Keetoowahs were the original and earliest occupiers of the land base that is now the disputed jurisdictional area, occupied it before the Cherokee Nation did, in other words.

These claims can be easily disputed and dismissed. First, it is impossible to link the founders or the membership of the UKB in the twentieth century exclusively as descendants of the Old Settlers. Second, as I stated yesterday, there are no references to any group called “Keetoowah” in the extensive documentary record prior to 1858. Third, and most significantly, the government to which the land in Arkansas was ceded in 1817 and in the Indian Territory in 1828 was the Cherokee Nation. Land is not conveyed by treaty to individuals or sub-groups within a citizenry, but to a government. And that government was very clearly “the Cherokee Nation” as stated in both treaties, and so that is the government that took ownership of those lands.

There is no question that history and law are two fields that are very interpretive, and it is not unusual for historians, like lawyers, to argue over the meanings and merits of the past. But the UKB’s rewriting of this aspect of the Cherokee Nation’s history is not one that is accepted or repeated by any reputable historian. In fact, one doesn’t find this interpretation anywhere except in the UKB’s own literature and in its museum. It would be easy to dismiss this claim, and most do, but for unknowing members of the media and the public, these assertions made by the UKB and its supporters have been picked up uncritically from press releases and propaganda and have been repeated to the point that many people simply accept these misrepresentations as truth. So it is important to understand that the emergence of the Keetoowah Society as a political and military organization was in the Civil War, and not before.

Now, I will pick up from yesterday’s story and move on. The Keetoowah Society experienced a split in its membership around 1900, midway through the allotment era. For most of the 1890s, the clear intent of the federal government had been to terminate its relationship with and recognition of the Cherokee Nation. Through several pieces of legislation, including the Curtis Act of 1898 which abolished Cherokee law and courts and extended Arkansas law over the Indian Territory, and the Cherokee Agreements of 1901-1902 which legislated March 4, 1906 as the day when the government of the Cherokee Nation would cease to exist in the eyes of the United States, every move on the part of the US had been to dismantle the governments of all the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole). In these extraordinary times, the Keetoowahs were fairly unified in their opposition to allotment.

But social scientists have frequently noted that in desperate times, religious revitalizations frequently occur within a People, and this happened among the Cherokees as well. A ceremonial practice, which had been almost lost among the Cherokees by this time, was rejuvenated in large part by the efforts of Redbird Smith (great-grandfather of former Chief Chad Smith), who rekindled the ceremonial fire at a newly-established ceremonial grounds at Blackgum Mountain in present-day Sequoyah County. Very quickly, thousands of Cherokees began to participate once again, and Redbird led these practitioners away from the politically-organized Keetoowah Society toward a stated goal of “getting back to the old ways” – in short, of re-focusing on ceremonial practices.

But these ceremonialists, who had the moniker “Nighthawk Keetoowahs” bestowed upon them by the local white media in Muskogee, were far from uninvolved in the events of their Nation. Coupled with their revived spiritual practices, the Nighthawks also engaged in a campaign of passive resistance to enrollment for allotment. They evaded federal commissioners and returned unwanted allotment deeds unopened. While the Nighthawks began to be identified as a separate movement due to their return to ceremonial practice, the politically-oriented members of the Keetoowah Society persisted with an organization as well. They were active in the Sequoyah Convention in 1905 (an attempt by the Five Tribes to create an Indian state out of their territories). In that same year, when it appeared the Cherokee Nation was soon going to be legislated out of existence, they applied for a federal charter of incorporation, which they received, establishing the Keetoowah Society, Inc.

By the end of the allotment era, the Keetoowah Society had thus split into two distinct movements and organizations. But in 1906, something amazing happened. And that’s tomorrow’s story!

Julia Coates
(Dr. Julia Coates is an At-Large Councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)

The Original Keetoowah Society of Cherokee

Subject: Cherokee Nation Update: The Original Keetoowah Society

Hello, everyone –

This week I will give a history of the issues between the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band (UKB) – issues that are currently threatening the Cherokee Nation’s historic jurisdiction in northeastern Oklahoma. This is a complex story so I will be taking several days to cover it. And then I will provide some talking points for you to use in communicating your concerns to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the elected officials of the Cherokee Nation.

Part of the confusion today results from the fact that there are actually two different entities that informally call themselves “Keetoowahs.” One is the Keetoowah Society, a ceremonial group that was revitalized in the allotment era and which still functions at several ceremonial grounds in northeastern Oklahoma, and the other is the United Keetoowah Band, an organization incorporated in 1946 under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (a federal act) for the purposes of accessing programs offered by that legislation. Although each organization customarily refers to itself as “the Keetoowahs,” they are not the same organization. The ceremonial group has a private membership, usually acquired by birth or by invitation. The UKB is a political organization whose membership is open to anyone who meets the criteria: directly descended from the Dawes Rolls and of at least ¼ blood degree.

The emergence of the original Keetoowah Society in the Cherokee Nation was around 1858 or ’59, just prior to the Civil War. At that time, it organized at the request of Principal Chief John Ross as a way to counter the influences of southern-sympathizing Cherokees led by Stand Watie. Ross approached his longstanding friends, the northern Baptist missionary team of the Rev. Evan Jones and his son John B. Jones, with a request that they quietly ask their congregations to form this counterpoint group. Although ultimately comprised of both ceremonial and Christian Cherokees, it was initially led by Cherokee Baptist ministers trained and ordained by the Joneses – Budd Gritts, Lewis Downing, and Smith Christie. This early Keetoowah Society’s stated goals were to hold the line on the rising southern influences within the Nation and to place themselves at the disposal of the Ross administration and family for their protection. This is the organization within which the “Pin” Indians formed – about 1500 Cherokee men who fought as part of the Indian Home Guard, a Union regiment. Overall, the Keetoowah Society was a large organization during the Civil War, counting an estimated 70% of Cherokees as its members – basically all those who opposed the Confederacy.

The ceremonial Keetoowahs of today have an oral history that says that the Keetoowah Society as a ceremonial group did not emerge in the Civil War, but existed from ancient times. I’ve no doubt that is true, but I don’t personally believe that the name “Keetoowah” was used by the ceremonialists previous to the Civil War. My reasoning is this: there is no tribe in the country that is as documented as the Cherokees, in large part because of the development of the written language and our habit of launching strong legal and political defenses of our Nation and sovereignty, including an impressive body of political rhetoric authored by Cherokees. There are copious missionary accounts as well written by people who worked closely with the Cherokees and who were particularly observant of their “pagan/heathen” ceremonial practices, which the missionaries frequently noted and condemned. So those practices were not a secret, in fact seemed pretty flagrant from the perspective of the missionaries. And yet nowhere in the extensive documentary record of the Cherokees is there any mention of a “Keetoowah Society” or anything bearing that name, except the old town of Kituhwa, until the Civil War era. And then suddenly there are numerous mentions of a group called that, and the group itself is developing constitutions and keeping membership lists, etc. So although I absolutely believe that ceremonial societies existed far back in time and came through the ages, I also think the name “Keetoowah” was adopted around the Civil War period. And the group at that time had a predominantly political purpose and secondarily a military purpose, rather than a ceremonial purpose.

The Civil War era Keetoowah Society provided leadership to the Cherokee Nation after the death of Principal Chief John Ross in 1866. Subsequent Principal Chiefs such as Lewis Downing and Charles Thompson (Ochelata) were members of the Keetoowah Society. It was not a political party, per se, but was a movement within the Cherokee Nation that continued throughout the last decades of the 1800s, always identified as a community-based, grassroots organization of more traditionally-oriented subsistence Cherokee people.

The stresses of the allotment period contributed to increased activity by the Keetoowah Society, but also resulted in a split in the Society. And that’s when things start to be confusing. That will be tomorrow’s story.

Julia Coates
(Dr. Julia Coates is an At-Large Councilor on the Cherokee Nation Council)