Five Civilized Tribes - History

History

George Washington and Henry Knox proposed cultural transformation for Native Americans; the Cherokee and Choctaw were successful at integrating aspects of European-American culture which they found useful.

The Five Civilized Tribes were Indigenous peoples of the Americas who lived in the Southeastern United States, and most were descendants of what we now call the Mississippian culture, an agrarian culture that grew crops of corn and beans, with hereditary religious and political elites, that flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from 800 to 1500 C.E. Before European Contact these tribes were generally matriarchial societies, with agriculture being the primary economic pursuit. The bulk of the tribes lived in towns (some covering hundreds of acres and containing thousands of people) with planned streets, residential and public areas. The people were ruled by complex hereditary chiefdoms of varying size and complexity with high levels of military organization. In the early part of the 19th Century, the US Government forced the Tribes to relocate, under Indian Removal, to other parts of the country, a significant number to Indian Territory, in the area that would become the future state of Oklahoma. At the time of their removal these tribes were suzerain nations with established tribal governments, well established cultures, and legal systems that allowed for slavery.

The tribes were relocated from their homes east of the Mississippi River over several decades during the series of removals known as the Trail of Tears, authorized by federal legislation. They moved to what was then called Indian Territory, now the eastern portion of the state of Oklahoma. The most infamous removal was the Cherokee Trail of Tears of 1838, when President Martin Van Buren enforced the highly contentious Treaty of New Echota with the Cherokee Nation to exchange their property for land out west.

The Five Tribes were divided in politics during the American Civil War. The Choctaw and Chickasaw fought predominantly on the Confederate side. The Creek and Seminole supported the Union, while the Cherokee fought a civil war within their own nation between the majority Confederates and the minority, pro-Union men. As an element in Reconstruction after the Civil War, new Reconstruction Treaties were signed with tribes that had previously signed treaties with the Confederate States of America.

Once the tribes had been relocated to Indian Territory, the United States government promised that their lands would be free of white settlement. Some settlers violated that with impunity, even before 1893, when the government opened the "Cherokee Strip" to outside settlement in the Oklahoma Land Run. In 1907, the Oklahoma Territory and the Indian Territory were merged to form the state of Oklahoma. All Five Civilized Tribes have a major presence there today.

The term "civilized" as applied in this case has been considered at various times and places (for example in the writings of Vine Deloria, Jr.) as insulting or derogatory, as implying that other Native American tribes were "not civilized" and that the five tribes could only earn the designation of being "civilized" to the extent they took up the cultural values and ways of the European Americans. This conception of "civilization" was internalized within the membership of the five nations, who used it themselves.

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