African-Native American Research Forum Archive
(Cross-posted from another List)
Black Seminoles Of Oklahoma Deserve Justice
By Ron Daniels
Over the years I have consistently advocated full justice for the indigenous peoples
Unfortunately in some instances the U.S. government has sought to deny this heritage or to discriminate against "Black Indians."
After two major wars in which the U.S. government attempted to subdue what was perceived as a dangerous alliance of Native Americans and runaway slaves the Seminoles agreed to safe passage to the territory of Oklahoma with the Black Freedman being included in their number. In 1866 Congress created the Dawes Commission to "enroll and validate the membership" of the so called "Five Civilized Tribes" is the U.S. When the "Dawes rolls" was completed in 1906 the Seminole Freedmen were validated as part of the Seminole Nation. Since arriving in Oklahoma the Black Seminoles have continued to play leading roles in the affairs of the Nation. They are issued tribal cards by the Seminole Nation vote in tribal elections and hold positions on the Tribal Council on an equal basis with other members of the Nation.
The problem of discriminatory treatment and injustice lies within the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)which is charged with administering federal policy as it relates to Native Americans. Despite the fact that the Black Seminoles were recognized as full members of the Seminole Nation by the Dawes Commission the BIA has ruled that the Seminole Freedmen are not entitled to share in some $56 million which was awarded to the Seminole Nation as compensation for land taken from the Nation in Florida in the 1820's and 30's. The government dispenses these funds through Judgment Fund Benefits which include monetary grants for housing health care and education. The BIA has consistently refused to honor the request of any Black Seminole who has applied for benefits under this award thereby systematically discriminating against Seminoles of African descent. In an effort to rectify this injustice the Black Seminoles filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in 1995 Davis v. The United States against the U.S. government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The suit contends that the Seminole Freedmen have been unjustly excluded from benefits to which they are rightly entitled. The Oklahoma Black Legislative Black Caucus and the Martin Luther King Coalition recently expressed their full support for the Black Seminoles and announced plans to launch a nationwide campaign to secure justice in their case.
The New York based Center for Constitutional Rights has been asked to write an amicus brief is support of the Black Seminole's case and to take leadership in mobilizing the support of other public interest legal institutions and advocacy organizations in doing likewise. The case which was initially dismissed in the United States District Court is on appeal to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver and may well end up before the Supreme Court of the U.S. before the issue is settled.
No matter what happens in the courts it is important for African Americans and all people of
[26 Jun 1999]