Choctaw camp meeting Photo courtesy the E.A. Coleman Collection, Western History Collection, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

Choctaw camp meeting where people often discussed community issues facing Choctaw people.

A New Chahta Homeland: A History by the Decade, 1920-1930

Iti Fabvssa

March 1, 2022

Iti Fabvssa is currently running a series that covers the span of Oklahoma Choctaw history. By examining each decade since the Choctaw government arrived in our new homelands using Choctaw-created documents, we gain a better understanding of Choctaw ancestors’ experiences and how they made decisions that have led us into the present. This month covers the 1920-1930 period as Choctaw Nation navigated the best possible ways to provide for Choctaw people despite the severe constraints it faced as a government.

Following the end of World War I and the election of Chief William F. Semple in 1918, the 1920s were when everyone had to deal with the war’s economic aftermath. Choctaws were already dealing with the dismal economic conditions caused by allotment. Those challenges were worsened by economic uncertainty caused by the war and federal budget cuts. With their governmental capacity severely reduced, Choctaw leaders increasingly relied on federal officials to ensure that laws governing Choctaw affairs were followed as treaties and laws stated they should be. Choctaws understood how limited their power had become and therefore pushed for more formal meetings regarding tribal affairs like the sale of coal and asphalt lands. The Choctaw National Attorney Hampton Tucker visited Choctaws regarding the issues individuals and families faced. Choctaw people hosted grassroots meetings to decide how to proceed. One group became known as the “Tuskahoma League” and advocated for the sale of coal and asphalt lands to provide per capita payments to Choctaws.

When Choctaw lands were allotted, Choctaws’ coal and asphalt lands were excluded from allotment. Since these lands were worth much more due to the natural resources, they had to be sold separately from other Choctaw lands. This would entail a lengthy process. First, the coal and asphalt lands had to be surveyed and provided a value. After this process was completed and the lands were assigned a value calculated by the U.S. government surveyors, the Bureau of Indian Affairs found the valuation rate of the coal lands to be too high to receive very many bids. Because there was an economic downturn in the United States and demand for coal was less than before, they suggested that the valuation be lowered to attract bids for the coal lands. Choctaw leaders opposed this but found little recourse because they were eager to sell the lands so Choctaws could receive per capita payments that had been delayed over ten years by this point. They went through the process, but as they would find, this sale would drag out for another twenty years with multiple extensions to the legislation that authorized such a sale.

In addition to these large land issues, individual Choctaws faced numerous problems stemming from their respective allotments. Since these parcels of land were provided to individual Choctaws, landownership was primarily an issue for individuals and was no longer a matter that tribal government had control over. Although the Choctaw government continued to exist through a select few offices, they focused on the more significant land issues. Consequently, many Choctaws became forced to rely on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help them with land ownership problems. As mentioned last month, Choctaws continually gathered to discuss issues facing Choctaw people. Choctaws gathered to discuss both the U.S. Congress Act approved in 1924 and the subject of allotments and restrictions associated with allotments.

A significant factor in the Choctaw land loss was the blood quantum requirement that determined whether people’s lands would be held in restricted status or not. As mentioned in last month’s article, all allotments initially had land restrictions. Land restrictions meant that land could not be sold or leased without the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Furthermore, because allotments held by Choctaws listed on the Dawes rolls were considered Choctaw land managed by the federal government, they could not be taxed by the state of Oklahoma or any local county government. Initially, all Choctaw citizens were supposed to have land restrictions. Still, local Oklahoma politicians sought to have these restrictions removed to tax the land and undermine Choctaw land ownership. Two years after allotment, land restrictions on intermarried citizens and Freedmen were lifted. Members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation also pushed to implement a blood quantum requirement for land restrictions. By requiring those with ½ blood quantum or more to have land restrictions, Choctaw lands quickly went from being owned by tribal citizens to non-tribal individuals.

Meanwhile, those with more than ½ blood quantum were limited in their ability to manage their land and money, which the government-held. While some full-bloods did not like the restrictions, it still helped many others and was why many of them supported them. Fullblood support for restrictions led Choctaw leaders and attorneys to convince congress to pass the Act of May 10, 1928, to extend the period of restrictions for those with ½ blood quantum or more and their heirs.

The poor conditions that Choctaws and other Native people lived in Oklahoma drew the federal government’s attention. In 1926, the Secretary of the Interior requested a report on the conditions of Native Americans throughout the United States. A commission authorized by the Institute of Government Research (now the Brookings Institute) undertook a massive amount of work to complete the report. The report was formally titled “The Problem of Indian Administration” and later became infamously known as the Meriam Report. The purpose of this report was “to look to the future and insofar as possible to indicate what remains to be done to adjust the Indians to the prevailing civilization so that they may maintain themselves in the presence of that civilization according to at least to a minimum standard of health and decency.” After two years of fieldwork and writing, they completed the 847-page report in 1928. This report evaluated the general economic conditions of Native people and how the Indian Service could be improved to better their work with Native peoples. Importantly, it found that the allotment system was a root problem and recommended a shift to corporate tribal land ownership. After the report was submitted and circulated, it was used to guide federal policy regarding Native people for years and laid the groundwork for what would become the Indian Reorganization Act and Oklahoma Welfare Act in the 1930s and which we will cover next month. This would move back towards tribal governance despite attacks at the beginning of the century.


About Iti Fabvssa

Iti Fabvssa seeks to increase knowledge about the past, strengthen the Choctaw people and develop a more informed and culturally grounded understanding of where the Choctaw people are headed in the future.

Additional reading resources are available on the Choctaw Nation Cultural Service website. Follow along with this Iti Fabvssa series in print and online.

Inquiries

If you have questions or would like more information on the sources, please contact Megan Baker at [email protected]