article originally appeared in Finalcall.com
Oklahoma – "History
speaks of the ‘Trail of Tears’ in the past tense, and perhaps
for the Indian nations it is, but for Black Indians 173 years
later, we find ourselves still traveling this journey," Eleanor "Gypsy" Wyatt,
chairman of the Freedman Descendents of the Five Civilized Tribes
told those gathered at the first annual Enid, Oklahoma, Black
Indian pow wow.
She was speaking of
the forced march at gunpoint that thousands of Native Americans
endured in the 1930s after the United States government decided
that they wanted the Indian lands east of the Mississippi.
Wyatt said her ancestors marched on the trail, and like many
Black families, part of their
history has been lost. "Though my complexion is of a dark
hue, my African brothers don’t claim me for my hair is too straight
or wavy, my nose is not broad, my lips are not full. My Choctaw
and Chickasaw brothers won’t claim me, although my features are
much like their own. I am a reminder of the inhumane treatment
against a people," she said.
1829, settlers found gold on the Cherokee lands in northeastern
Georgia, and they
wanted government officials to remove the Indians off their land.
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which was signed
into law by President Andrew Jackson. The act argued that, "no
state could achieve proper culture, civilization, and progress,
as long as Indians remained within its boundaries." The
bill called for the removal of all Indians in the southeastern
United States to the territory west of the Mississippi River.
In 1838, the first groups started out on their 1,000-mile trek,
which became known as the Trail of Tears because of the horrors
faced, such as disease, lack of food, water and bad weather.
Indian nations such
as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Kickapoo, Seminole, Wyandotte,
Lenapi, Chickasaw and Mohawk had their lands taken away because
settlers and corporations wanted more land, according to historians.
Cherokee arrived on March 24, 1839 in their new land called
the Indian Territory,
now Oklahoma, a word that means "red people."
such as the Black
Indians United Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Freedman
Descendants of the Five Civilized Tribes, argue that the history
of Black Indians has been left out deliberately by government
agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
current struggles arise from what seems to be a concerted effort
by the highest
levels of U.S. government agencies responsible for the fiduciary
and trustee duties to deny Black Indians their rights under the
Treaty of 1866, giving slaves held by the five tribes equal rights,
as full members of the tribes.
"I charge the BIA
with ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination, ethnically exclusionary
procedural systems and breach of contractual obligations," said
Angela Molette, Freedmen's Descendants spokesperson. She said
the main purpose of the First Annual Black Indian Pow Wow in
Enid was to call "members" of the five tribes back
home so that they may re-claim the heritage that was lost due
to the forced exile. Historians have estimated that at
least 18 percent of the Indians that survived the Trail of Tears
Robert Finley, 62, told The
Final Call that he moved back to Enid from California to
claim his lost heritage. He said his father, Robert Finley,
Sr., would sit around the house on the weekends and hold conversations
with his uncles in Choctaw. "I would ask them what language
they were speaking, and they would tell me that I would pick
it up as I got older, but that never happened," Mr. Finley
said. He said that his generation was not encouraged to seek
information about their Indian heritage. He said the elders
felt it was difficult enough being Black, and adding the Indian
to it would make life unbearable.
Mitchell, 86, is the matriarch in Enid’s Black Indian enclave. "We never
knew much about our Indian heritage," she said, admitting
that she learned more about her true heritage at the pow wow
than she had over the years. "It is good that the young
want to know about their Indian ancestors," Ms. Mitchell
Hakeem Sweeney, his sister Nzingha Beverly Sweeney and Charline
traveled from Buffalo, New York, to attend the pow wow. "There
is a part of my history here that I need to know," Mr. Sweeney
said. He said his grandparents came from Oklahoma. Nzingha Sweeney
said that she always felt that her grandparents, aunts and uncles
were keeping secrets about their Indian heritage. "I remember
looking at my grandfather with those cheekbones and high nose,
and I would say there is more to where we come from," Ms.
"I have been to
other pow wows because I am always searching for my Indian history.
I have grandchildren and I want them to know where they come
from, so they will know where they are going," Ms. Tramel
(If you are interested
in gaining knowledge of genealogy techniques and family contacts,
you may contact Angela Molette at the Southern
Heights Heritage Center and Museum, 616 Leona Mitchell
Boulevard, Enid, Oklahoma 73701, or call (580) 237-6989.)
on the subject:
Indians Announce Plans To March On Washington, by Dr. Bob Miller
Descendants of the Five Civilized Tribes