Tribal history filled with broken promises

Roseanne McKee rmckee@examiner-enterprise.com
Dr. Brice Obermeyer, a Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation officer and cultural anthropologist, spoke about his book, “Delaware Tribe in a Cherokee Nation,” at a BAHM presentation Aug. 23. Roseanne McKee/Journal-Capital

“The Cherokee may have had the Trail of Tears. I call our diaspora the trail of broken treaties,” Delaware Tribe’s Director of the Cultural Resources Department Curtis Zunigha said from the audience, during a noon presentation Friday at the Bartlesville Area History Museum by Dr. Brice Obermeyer.

Obermeyer, a Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation officer and cultural anthropologist, examined the history of the Delaware Tribe and their lives and history in the Cherokee Nation at the museum. He has written a book, “Delaware Tribe in a Cherokee Nation,” which delves more deeply into these subjects.

Although the Delaware wanted a separate treaty, an agreement was struck between leaders of the Delaware Tribe and members of the Cherokee Nation in Washington, D.C., he said.

“As Curtis said, this was the last treaty for the Delaware Tribe and another broken treaty,” Obermeyer said.

“There was significant pressure by the federal government to make this agreement between the two nations,” Obermeyer said. “The Delaware wanted their own reservation. This agreement actually has more to do with the Cherokee Treaty of 1866 … essentially a surrender treaty, where they give up substantial portions of land as well as agree for civilized tribes to reside within the Cherokee Nation … the Delaware and the Shawnee tribes.”

The Cherokee were forced to strike agreements with these tribes, Obermeyer said.

“The Delaware Agreement is different from the Shawnee Agreement. I don’t think we have time to go into the differences, but in the Delaware Agreement the Delaware purchased land. I think that’s important. Not only did the Delaware give up land in Kansas, they had to purchase land in exchange … in the Cherokee Nation. Additionally, they had to purchase the right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation,” Obermeyer said. “If the Delaware had been given their own reservation, there would have been no need to purchase citizenship from the Cherokee.”

“The majority of the Delaware resisted this agreement, refusing to be removed. … This was an agreement signed in Washington, D.C. … It wasn’t until important leaders on the reservation were persuaded that the others in the resistance moved as well,” Obermeyer said.

This caused a rift in the Delaware Tribe between the Christian church, led by Charles Journeycake, and the Big House Church, he said. This division also created two types of government — the Big House traditional style of government — and the tribal council form of government recognized by the federal government. The Big House government remained functional until it was put away the mid-1920s, Obermeyer said.

The treaty of 1866 facilitated settlement in Oklahoma Territory.

Most Delaware moved to the Miami area to live and were among many tribes that had been moved from Kansas.

The Delaware moved to Miami when they first attempted not to move into the Cherokee Nation, Obermeyer said.

Showing areas on a map Obermeyer pointed out that when the Delaware eventually were moved into the Cherokee Nation, they moved into distinct, less-settled areas, he explained.

The major settlement area of the Cherokee was in the Ozark plateau around Tahlequah. The Delaware area was in the Washington and Nowata County areas. The Shawnee settled in two areas — around Claremore and Sperry —and around Skiatook and Tulsa.

It is noteworthy that when the Delaware did settle in the Cherokee Nation, they did so as far away from the Cherokee settlement area as they could and close to Kansas.

The Big House and Christian communities continued in Oklahoma, Obermeyer said.

There are areas identifiable now only by creek names such as Hogshooter and Coon, which were the location of previous settlements of Delaware, Obermeyer said. There were cemeteries left there as well.

He showed a map where Delaware people had settled.

“What you’re seeing is both the Delaware allotment and where their naturalized children settled. What I think is neat about this is when you do that you can see these communities. You can see Silver Lake, Coon Creek, Alluwe. Families tried, as they could, to get allotments around each other,” Obermeyer said.

Zunigha asked to add some historical footnotes, “in the agreement of 1867 and the Treaty of 1866 with the Delawares, the idea was that the Delaware would select a description of land that would be as compact, a reservation — and that was the term that was used — that would provide 160 acres for every man, woman and child of the 985 Delawares that came down. Once that land mass was calculated and something was drawn out, we have documents in our archives that state that compact reservation would start at the Kansas state line and the 96th meridian, which today is the Osage County line. It would extend to the east 10 miles and from the Kansas state line south 30 miles. That never came to be. If it had, we would be a reservation. However, if you look at your Oklahoma map of Washington County, why is it elongated? It almost matches if you stretch it down to the Tulsa County line. It almost matches that description that came up in 1867. The other part of the negotiations with the Cherokees in the agreement — Cherokees sure enough wanted us up here — because they wanted us to be a buffer between them and those wild Osages.”

Obermeyer said, “there were trips made by Delaware leaders to come to Indian Territory to select their reservation. They’re essentially presurveying their land and making sure the property is OK and all of a sudden this agreement shows up. It was very much not in line with the Delawares’ expectation or what was promised to the Delaware. And, you can see where most of the allotments are within that 10-by-30 mile strip.”

Obermeyer said that wherever he visited that Delaware had settled throughout the United States, the land selected had similar features. “The topography was similar … in a flat floodplain along major rivers,” he said.

The important federal acknowledgment is that the tribe has to show it continues to have a governing body. This is a significant aspect of the Indian tribe for many who focus on descent rather than identity as a political body.

“When it comes to recognition by the United States, the United States is recognizing a government. And it’s recognizing a government that has a separate constituency. … So, if the United States sees that a government ceases to function and picks back up again when the casino and gaming get popular, they’re not going to recognize it because it’s not a continuous political organization. And that’s where many tribes fail. At some point they kind of stop governing because there wasn’t any need to, or interest and so forth, and suddenly a new era comes about and they want to reorganize, and they can’t reorganize because they didn’t keep that continuity,” Obermeyer said.

“So, this is the continuity and it is an amazing continuity. And it also illustrates that along this process the Delaware Tribe is continuously working with the federal government in these transformations that take place. The Principal Chief and Assistant Chief organization was continued into Oklahoma in 1889. It was restructured as the Delaware Business Committee … largely focused on whether the Cherokee Nation comes through on their promises. For instance, if the Cherokee get land claim awards, … the Delaware are citizens so they deserve to get a portion of those land claims of what we paid for. So they’re pushing for Delaware rights as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

“In the 1960s the business committee passed its first constitution and bylaws. The BIA approved it, that’s important. Before the self-determination era the tribe is adopting its own constitution. The grievance committee is added in this constitution,” Obermeyer said. “I argue this is the legacy of the Big House community — that we have kind of a check and balance on the business community.

“In the 70s the business committee is awarded significant land claims by the Indian Claims Commission. This caused the membership of the Delaware to increase in the 1970s,” he said. “Today the tribe has over 10,000 members. The Cherokee Nation is the second-largest tribe in the United States. The Delaware Tribe is in the top 25, I think, in terms of population,” Obermeyer said. “Of the 573 tribes, we are two of the larger tribes in that group.”

An audience member said the Delaware Tribe is nearing 12,000 members.

“Despite this long history, almost 100 years of governmental continuity, in 1978 the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) issues their first list, and the Delaware Tribe is left off the list of federally recognized tribes. The book goes into why this is, but essentially, the Cherokee Nation has great influence on who gets on and off this list. The justification was that the Cherokees were the tribe for the Delawares and that’s why they were left off the list. They didn’t ask the Delawares if they wanted to be left off that list,” Obermeyer said.

There was a lot of work done to get the Delaware put back on the list, Obermeyer said. As a result of these efforts, the Delaware were put back on the list of federally recognized tribes in 1996. The Cherokee appealed this decision and eventually won that appeal, which took eight years in federal court.

“They didn’t win it on the basis that the Delaware Tribe shouldn’t be recognized, they won it on the basis that the BIA didn’t follow their own procedures. The Cherokee Nation is very good. They’ve beat the United States at their own game since the 1830s and they did it here again,” he said.

“Some of the things from the book come from this time period — debates about how the Delaware Tribe can continue given the fact that they have this situation as residents of the Cherokee Nation.”

Tribes can contract for services in this self-determination era. Thus, the Cherokee Nation argued that there would be an overlap of services if the Delaware Tribe were allowed to be a sovereign nation.

“The government’s not going to give money twice for the same population and so the system didn’t allow it,” Obermeyer said.

This meant that the Delaware and Cherokee together were viewed by the federal government as a service population. This brought up the issue of tribal enrollment. Most tribes today require single enrollment. Although people may have genetics from several tribes, they have to choose to enroll in one. That is single enrollment, he explained. In the Cherokee Nation, Delaware are allowed dual enrollment.

“Even if they don’t have Cherokee ancestry, they can enroll as a Cherokee,” Obermeyer said.

With dual enrollment, the Delaware can vote and receive services in both the Cherokee Nation and Delaware Tribe.

One of the solutions offered was single enrollment, he said, which would give the Delaware the choice of whether to enroll as Delaware or Cherokee. However, today dual enrollment continues.

Obermeyer’s book “Delaware Tribe in a Cherokee Nation” is available at bookstores or by calling 800-755-1105, email at pressmail@unl.edu and on the Internet at www.nebraskapress.unl.edu.