United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ or Anigiduwagi Aniyvwiya, abbreviated United Keetoowah Band or UKB) is a federally recognized tribe of Cherokee Native Americans headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. According to the UKB website, its members are mostly descendants of "Old Settlers" or "Western Cherokee," the Cherokee who migrated to present-day Arkansas and Oklahoma about 1817. Some reports estimate that Old Settlers began migrating west by 1800. This was before the forced relocation of Cherokee from the Southeast in the late 1830s under the Indian Removal Act. Although politically the UKB is not associated with the Trail of Tears, many of the membership have direct ancestors that completed the harrowing journey in 1838/1839.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Christianity (Southern Baptist), Kituwah,|
Four Mothers Society
|Related ethnic groups|
|other Cherokee tribes|
Many UKB members are traditionalists and Baptists.
Today the UKB has over 14,300 members, with 13,300 living within the state of Oklahoma. Joe Bunch is the current Chief.
Assistant Chief is Jamie Thompson. Ms. Joyce Fourkiller-Hawk serves as the tribal Secretary and Ms. Ella Mae Worley is the tribe's Treasurer. Tribal officers hold four-year terms while tribal council members are elected to two-year terms. The election calendars are paralleled with the United States' election calendar (Mid-terms and Presidential).
The tribal complex is located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
The tribe owns and operates Keetoowah Construction in Tahlequah, and the Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have an arts and crafts gallery, showcasing members' work. They run the Keetoowah Cherokee Casino, with over 500 gaming machines, in Tahlequah. The UKB issue their own tribal vehicle tags. Their estimated annual economic impact is $267 million. They host an annual homecoming festival over the first weekend of October.
The word Keetoowah (Kituwa) is the name of an ancient Cherokee mother town and earthwork mound in the eastern homeland of the Cherokee. Kituwah also is considered to be the original name of the Cherokee people. The original land claims of the UKB include all or parts of Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Following the western movement of the Cherokee, UKB traditional territories include the above-mentioned states with the addition of Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The UKB members are composed primarily of descendants of the "Old Settlers," Cherokee who settled in present-day Arkansas and Oklahoma around 1817. They were well established before most of the Cherokee were forcibly relocated by the United States government from the Southeast to Indian Territory in what became known as the 1838 Trail of Tears.
By the 1880s, all Cherokee people faced increased pressure by the US government for assimilation. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cherokee and other Native American children were sent to Indian boarding schools away from home for their education: they were expected to speak only English, were generally prohibited from speaking their own languages, and were expected to adopt Christianity rather than practice native spirituality. The US federal government unilaterally closed and seized Cherokee and other Native American governmental and public institutions through the 1898 Curtis Act, the Dawes Act and the 1906 Five Civilized Tribes Act. Under this legislation, they broke up communal tribal holdings and allotted plots of land to individual households, intended to be used for the European-American model of subsistence farming.
The Dawes Commission was tasked to forced assimilation and break up tribal governments by instilling the concept of land ownership among individual members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The commission divided large sections of land into individual household allotments in an effort to eliminate the traditional governments of the Cherokee, which at that time were based on a communal form of government with the lands being controlled by the tribal government. The US government appointed certain Cherokee chiefs to administer tribal lands and holdings.
The Cherokee language is in danger of being lost, and as of 2018, only 101 people in the UKB were counted as being fluent, with most speakers either in the grandparent generation or above. In 2019, the Tri-Council of Cherokee tribes declared a state of emergency for the language due the threat of it going extinct, calling for the enhancement of revitalization programs.
Under the Curtis Act of 1898, the government of the Cherokee Nation was dissolved in 1906, in spite of the resistance of many of its members. The only remnant left was the office of the Principal Chief, held by William Charles Rogers. He had been deposed in 1905 by the National Council for cooperating in the tribe's dissolution. He was replaced with Frank J. Boudinot (who was also the leader of the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society). The next year, the US government re-appointed Rogers and directed him to manage land sales. He held office until 1914, after which the US government did not appoint a chief and the position was dormant.
The administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt worked to strengthen Native American tribes by allowing them to reconstitute their traditional governments. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (1934). The state legislature passed the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (OIWA, 1936); both were considered part of the Indian New Deal to support tribes' reorganizing their governments. Cherokee people began to organize on their own terms. In the meantime, the President of the United States officially appointed Principal Chiefs for the Cherokee.
The UKB ratified their constitution and by-laws on October 3, 1950. The tribe was federally recognized in 1950 under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Early elected leaders of the UKB were Levi Gritts, followed by John Hitcher and the Reverend Jim Pickup, who served in the post-World War II era.
Conflict with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
After the Land Rush of 1889 and the federal dissolution of the Old Cherokee Nation, which was an independent republic and bears no relation to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), Oklahoma became a state and Indians listed on the Dawes Commission roll and other rolls were left without political representation.
In the late 1940s, prior to the establishment of the bureaucratic Federal Acknowledgement Process (FAP) which now includes the Bureau of Acknowledgement and Research, the United Keetoowah Band was probed according to criteria influenced by John Collier and Felix S. Cohen. D'Arcy McNickle argued that the Cherokee Nation no longer existed in any form except to sign over Indian lands, and he further suggested that the UKB be granted federal acknowledgment based on its authenticity and connection to the traditional ways, including the language and ceremonies.
After 1947, the UKB was the federally recognized organization by which all the Cherokee people received federal assistance and were dealt with on federal programs. The UKB was able to secure federal funds for the Cherokee Nation Complex, which today houses the CNO government. The UKB also started the Cherokee National Holiday, in conjunction with the Principal Chief's office. The Cherokee Nation Housing Authority was begun using UKB's federally recognized status.
Even the casino enterprises, which have for decades given the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma a motive to try to destroy or "de-recognize" the UKB and its membership, emerged from precedent set by the cooperation of the UKB.
After the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma received approval of their constitution in 1975, and decided that it had no further use for the UKB, the relationship between the two groups soured. The CNO evicted the UKB from the offices at the tribal complex in Tahlequah. The building from which the United Keetoowah Band's officers were ejected was acquired through the United Keetoowah Band's government-to-government relationship with the United States.
The Wilma Mankiller and Chad "Corntassel" Smith administrations have had many conflicts with UKB leadership. Smith was a member of the UKB, but due to these issues, the tribe revoked his membership in 2005.
The United Keetoowah Band maintains a one-quarter-blood requirement for members. The United Keetoowah Band requires all members to have verifiable Cherokee descent either from a person or people on the Dawes Roll or the UKB Base Roll of 1949.
Beginning in the 1970s, the UKB made people honorary, adopted and associate members, to recognize their services to the nation, continuing an older practice of Keetoowah adoption or naturalization dating back to the 19th century. Ward Churchill, a former Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, is an honorary associate member in the UKB. Former President Bill Clinton is a notable associate member.
In the late 20th century, several tribes began to develop gaming facilities on their own sovereign or trust lands, which was proved legal under certain laws, and in consultation with affected states. Such enterprises have raised revenues often used for development and welfare.
The State of Oklahoma has sued the UKB in federal court for operating illegal gaming facilities off Bureau of Indian Affairs-approved tribal trust lands. According to briefs submitted by the Cherokee Nation, the UKB own no tribal lands in federal trust. The lawsuit is pending in the federal courts in Oklahoma. It has been remanded to the National Indian Gaming Commission for review.
During the State of Oklahoma lawsuit pertaining to the UKB's alleged illegal casino operations, an Indian casino that has been operating for approximately 19 years, the UKB was accused of attempting to sue the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation said the UKB had sued to demand cession of tribal land allotments to them in order to build casinos. These lawsuits were dismissed.
The UKB has sued the United States for a share of the proceeds under HR-3534, a bill that required the United States to compensate the Cherokee Nation and two other Oklahoma tribes for claims to the disclaimed drybed lands of the Arkansas River. The legislation set aside ten percent of each tribe's share of the settlement for other claimant tribes; it afforded other claimant tribes an opportunity to file claims within 180 days of the legislation. The UKB filed suit against the United States. The Cherokee Nation moved to intervene and to dismiss the UKB suit. It contended that the Cherokee Nation is an indispensable party and that it cannot be joined in the litigation because of its sovereign immunity. The Court of Claims granted both of the Cherokee Nation's motions. On April 14, 2006, on appeal, the United States sided with the UKB against the Cherokee Nation's request for dismissal. The Court of Federal Claims heard the appeal on November 8, 2006.
In June 2004, the UKB requested that the BIA take into trust land which it owned on a fee basis, a 76-acre (31 ha) Community Services Parcel. The case has been studied and the request was originally denied, but the UKB appealed. In May 2011, the BIA finally announced its decision to take into trust for the UKB 76 acres (31 ha) of land in Tahlequah, which include several of its community centers and the sacred dance ground. The tribe will no longer be landless.
Notable UKB members
- Robert J. Conley, historian and novelist, b. 1940
- Mel Cornshucker (b. 1952), ceramic artist
- David Cornsilk, legal activist and genealogist
- Cecil Dick (1915–1992), flatstyle painter and muralist
- Archie Sam (1914–1986), Natchez-Cherokee-Muscogee Creek traditionalist, stomp dance leader, and cultural historian
- Virginia Stroud (United Keetoowah Band-Muscogee Creek), artist and former Miss Indian America, b. 1951
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