Researching “glazed over” Allotment Era history across the US

NationalCrimeHuman InterestCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 07/21/2023, 4:10 AM
Edited: 05/09/2024, 7:17 PM

(MUSCOGEE NATION) Sharp eyes. Gentle hands. A willingness to travel. These are just a few requirements needed to sift through boxes of Indigenous history stored at multiple sites across the United States.  

Locating and analyzing historical data pertaining to the lives of Mvskoke people from 1890 to 1920 has been a collaborative effort for Lucinda Hickory Research Institute (LHRI) and Verified News Network (VNN) for more than a year. 

Thanks to a $12k grant from the Data Driven Reporting Project (DDRP), the duo have been able to take their effort beyond Oklahoma borders by way of the “Stealing Tvlse Summer Tour ''. The first stop of the tour was the Kansas City National Archives on July 18. 

LHRI Executive Director Tatianna Duncan, of both Muscogee and Cherokee descent, spent her time perusing hundreds of Haskell Boarding School records, locating many on the Cherokee side of her family. 

She said uncovering this information about her relatives’ experiences in Indian Boarding Schools was very saddening. 

“Some kids, if they were good and instructors were happy with them, they got to go home for summer,” Duncan said. “But if they ran away from school, then they would punish them and not let them go home during the summertime. That kept me really busy reading all the different correspondence about parents and kids and how they talked about the kids. They made the decisions on behalf of the parents, or instead of the parents, actually.” 

Exposing the truth of Allotment Era crimes and injustice has been a personal mission for Duncan for many years, and a lifetime in the making. 

“It's a part of history that has to be filled in,” Duncan said. “We go from the Trail of Tears to right now and the whole Allotment Era is just kind of glazed over.”

During their Kansas City stop, VNN and LHRI discovered the existence of 23 boxes of documents relating to crime involving Mvskoke people. 

VNN Director Brittany Harlow was told “The documents were damaged in a fire and are very fragile” and thus could not be made available to the Stealing Tvlse Summer Tour team. 

Instead, archive officials told VNN and LHRI they will be looking into options such as conservation treatment and digitization to grant access to these records in the future. 

“That feels like the cover up continues, is what that feels like,” Duncan said. 

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Duncan said she believes the tribes should work harder to get copies of these records before it is too late. 

“As busy as the tribes are, especially the five tribes, they should get busy, collaborate, and get their records back,” Duncan said. “Get their records back from the federal government, the National Archives, or whatever agency has control of them. The least they can do is to give us our history. Because that's exactly what it is. It's our history.”

Duncan said lost history goes hand-in-hand with lack of understanding, particularly in regard to tribal sovereignty. 

“They don't understand that we have always been our own government since contact and we've never lost that control,” Duncan said. “People don't understand that, and clearly the governor, I think the governor knows, but he's no different than his ancestors 187 years ago, who tried to steal this country from the Indians. They're still trying.” 

Click here to learn more about the investigative series Stealing Tvlse.

The United Indian Nations of Oklahoma (UINO) blasted Governor Stitt on Thursday for what they called his “latest media attack” on the tribes: the unveiling of a new web page and video on Monday which UINO interpreted as calling the sovereignty of the state’s 39 Tribal Nations into question. 

UINO Executive Director Margo Gray said even after four years it appears that the governor does not understand the relationship between the state and the tribes. 

“The establishment of this new web page and video is a perfect example of the governor being unprepared to defend his positions without using his special interest groups to sway state legislators,” Gray said. “Nation to Nation relationships between sovereign governments are critical in our history as a Nation and within this state, and the governor does not seem to respect Tribal Leaders."

The lack of respect for Indigenous perspective was a recurring theme throughout the first leg of the Stealing Tvlse tour, as well. 

Harlow said she is looking forward to sharing more in-depth boarding school insights with the Verified News community in the coming months. 

“Though our recent trip yielded a lot of information about past assimilation efforts through education, those efforts were just one piece of a large pie to strip the culture and spirit away from Indigenous people during the Allotment Era,” Harlow said. "We pored through thick volumes of handwritten guardianship court records, followed soon by leasing agreements for deals that benefited guardians more than anyone else.” 

Harlow said she is confident they will find even more insightful documents on their next trip to the National Archives. 

VNN and LHRI will travel to the National Archives in Fort Worth, TX, in August and to a Historical Society in Philadelphia, PA, this September. 

Interested in supporting the Stealing Tvlse Summer Tour? Click here. 

This investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project. The Data-Driven Reporting Project is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University | Medill.


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