'The Freedman's Trail of Tears'
The 12th annual Civil Rights Conference at UTM officially began Monday, Feb. 20.
The night's events addressed the rights of American Indians.
Many students do not think about the current oppression of today's Indians or that there are Indian national leaders continuing to fight for their rights.
Opening the weeklong series of lectures and events, Mary Tidwell spoke on Indian rights, and, specifically, that of the Freedmen in her presentation titled "Freedmen's Trail of Tears."
Freedmen are descendants of African Americans who were slaves to Indian leaders during the late 1830s when Indians were being forced to walk from their homelands to an Indian reserve in what is now Oklahoma. This forced migration is known as the Trail of Tears.
At that time, only 7.4 percent of Cherokee Indians had slaves. In 1863, the Indians freed their slaves. When treaties for care and housing were established with the Indians, the Freedmen were included and accepted as Indians in these treaties.
In the past years tribal leaders have pushed to oust the Freedmen because of the fact there is no blood trace to any of the five tribes.
Since the Trail of Tears, however, many of the Freedmen have married Indians and thus become intermingled with the tribes.
These descendents have Indian blood and have lived side by side through all the hardships Indians have faced.
These actions would remove current tribal leaders. The ploy to outcast the Freedmen from the same treaties that supply today's Indians with health care, education, housing and the basic necessities for life should protect Freedmen as well, Tidwell said.
However, there are lawsuits today that ask for Freedmen to not receive Indian benefits.
Today within the Cherokee Nation, 2,600 people have been enrolled as Freedmen. This is not accurate because the Dawes Commission did not list Freedmen by blood but rather if they looked Indian or African American. As of 2008, the government has considered this isolation of the Freedmen prejudice.
Tidwell said she believes that, because the Freedmen were forced onto the Trail of Tears with the Indians, they were accepted as Indians in the treaties made for their provision and they should be given the same provisions Indians are given.
Tidwell is a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. She served three terms as a U.S. Secretary of the Interior-appointed member of the National Advisory Committee to the Trail of Tears Historic Trail and has received numerous awards for her language and historical preservation efforts.
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