Indian Territory: A Place to Call Our Own

After decades of turmoil in Kansas, Citizen Potawatomi leaders began planning for the Tribe to start anew. Although the Treaty of 1861 provided Tribal members U.S. citizenship and land allotments in Kansas, the federal government did not honor the treaty’s terms. As a result, many Citizen Potawatomi lost everything. The CPN Cultural Heritage Center’s gallery Indian Territory: A Place To Call Our Own recognizes Potawatomi efforts to overcome the harsh living conditions, violence and land conflicts that ensued once arriving in Indian Territory.

The provisions for the Citizen Potawatomi's move to Indian Territory were stipulated in a treaty signed on February 27, 1867. Signatories and the officials from the Office of Indian Affairs agreed that a delegation of Citizen Potawatomi would travel to Indian Territory and select a tract of land, not exceeding 30 miles square. The treaty stipulated that they would buy the reservation with the proceeds from selling their "surplus" lands in Kansas at one dollar per acre to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

In 1869, a party of Citizen Potawatomi traveled to Indian Territory and selected a tract of land that became the site of the Citizen Potawatomi reservation. They chose a section of land that encompassed 576,000 acres between the north and south forks of the Canadian River. The land lay just west of the Seminole reservation and had an eastern boundary at the Indian Meridian. Tour the Cultural Heritage Center's gallery Indian Territory: A Place to Call Our Own? and learn about how the Tribe was able to establish roots in Indian Territory that remain today.

The earliest families to make the journey to their new reserve arrived in Indian Territory in 1872. Since they paid for the move themselves, these families were among the more affluent Potawatomi families who were able to move from Kansas and included members of the Anderson, Bourbonnais, Melot, Clardy, Pettifer, Bergeron and Toupin families. They were soon followed by more Potawatomi emigrants.

After arriving on the Oklahoma reservation, the Citizen Potawatomi unwillingly participated in the allotment process implemented through the Dawes Act of 1887. With this Act, the Citizen Potawatomi were forced to accept individual allotments. In the land Run of 1891, the remainder of the Potawatomi reservation in Oklahoma was opened up to 'white' settlement. More than 20,000 anxious settlers gathered on foot, horseback and with wagons at a predetermined starting line, awaiting the sound of the bugle that would change their lives. This contest for recently relinquished Indian lands was one of seven land runs that occurred in Indian and Oklahoma Territories between 1889 and 1895.

While the early 1900s ushered in dramatic changes for the Citizen Potawatomi, it also provided a foundation for tribal self-governance, which can be seen throughout the CPN government today. Tribal members began efforts to exercise Tribal sovereignty, and from the 1870s through early Oklahoma statehood, Citizen Potawatomi never stopped asserting that Tribal members were both Potawatomi and U.S. citizens.

Although federal policies through time caused the Citizen Potawatomi to lose its battle to live by the Tribe’s cultural standards, members began finding ways to win by exercising sovereignty. This instilled hope into the next generation of Citizen Potawatomi as well as formed the foundation needed to grow and prosper as a Great Lakes tribe in Oklahoma.