NAHP Project Origins

by Jessica Taylor, Graduate Coordinator

SEMa017By 1840, the majority of Southeastern Indians were forcibly marched to “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi River under federal order; yet, all of the interviews conducted with Native Americans between 1967 and 2000 for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program took place in Mississippi, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Florida. Native Americans fought a pitched battle to stay in ancestral homelands, and it only just began with the Trail of Tears.

During the twentieth century, Indians outwitted corrupt Indian Affairs officials, spoke native languages at home, returned fire at Klansmen, engineered their own takedown of Jim Crow, and spurned encroachment onto reservation lands. Their strategies varied across space and time, but perpetual adaptation, resistance, and reaffirmation were, and continue to be, ultimately critical to survival in the American South.

  • Please contact Poarch Creek Project Coordinator Diana Dombrowski (ddombrowski@ufl.edu) for questions regarding audio, transcripts, and additional information.

Doris Duke Foundation Funding

doris dukeWith financial assistance from the Doris Duke Foundation, in 1967 UF Oral History director Samuel Proctor urged locally connected historians, anthropologists, and tribal members–trusted members of the community–to conduct interviews in place of a University of Florida researcher. As might be expected, the style, content and questions varied widely, and informants ranged from a witness to the Indian Wars of the 1890s to a Mississippian teenage minister preaching in the 1970s.

Over 900 reels and cassette tapes were shipped to Gainesville, one by one, to be transcribed and edited by UF students and staff. Today, the research staff at SPOHP and UF Libraries work to digitize recordings, develop searchable transcripts, and most importantly, secure deeds of gift from interviewees to ensure responsible use. With over nine hundred interviews, SPOHP’s Native American History Project is its nonpareil.


Seminole

The old people told us to get up at sunrise, and go find the deep water and just jump in there. Then come up and go back down there four times, then come out. The reason they’re doing that, when the soldiers coming, even when it’s cool in the morning, you can just jump in the water and run away. That’s the reason he tell me about it.

-Joe Osceola, undated, SEM-024

SPOHP interviewers sat down with Seminole Tribe of Florida members and Bureau of Indian Affairs workers over two hundred times between 1969 and 1971, and again in 1998. They recorded the histories of cultural change and continuity, thoughts on education and tribal elections, and traditional songs and stories. In between these two periods of intense study, Seminoles experienced the growing pains associated with successful restaurant and casino ventures on their reservations, forcing them to grapple with traditional resistance to white American culture and assimilation.

Four decades of collaborative labor resulted in the release of Seminole Voices: Reflections on Their Changing Society, 1970-2000 by SPOHP director Julian Pleasants and FAU researcher Harry A. Kersey, available through University of Nebraska Press.

Further reading:

Southern Underground Railroad: Black Seminoles from the Bahamas, Texas, and Mexico

I used to hear my grandmother and them talk and some of the old ones, and they talk like–back then you couldn’t hardly understand them
because it was Gullah, I guess. I was a little boy listening. They said, John Horse and Wild Cat, they escaped from the compound they had ’em in. Osceola was sick and he had an Indian wife and a black wife… This is the way they said it, and you know John Horse and Wild Cat, they been make themself little people and that’s how they escaped. I was a little boy, and I said, that’s magic.

-William “Dub” Warrior, 2012, URR-006

In June 2012, SPOHP collaborated with the National Park Service to conduct interviews at the NPS-sponsored National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom conference, held that year in St. Augustine, Florida. That year’s conference focused particularly on the little-known “Southern Underground Railroad,” through which enslaved Africans and African Americans escaped bondage by running away to Florida, and sometimes from there to the Caribbean or Mexico.

The Underground Railroad (URR) collection includes interviews with Black Seminoles from the Bahamas, Texas, and Mexico; an interview with Queen Quet, “Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation,” and other Gullah/Geechee artisans and elders; and a variety of other conference participants who spoke on issues related to little-known aspects of black history in Florida and the rest of the United States.

–Compiled by Dr. Ryan Morini

Further reading:

Lumbee

When we returned to Robeson County, I was cut down because I was an Indian. I was not used to this. People say, well, you cannot use this bathroom, because we have one for white and one for colored. We do not have one for Indians.

-Wanda Kay Locklear, 1973, LUM-077

During the Revolutionary period, the Lumbee Indians settled near present-day Pembroke in eastern North Carolina; their origins before that are speculative. With only nominal recognition from the federal government (Lumbee Act, 1956), no reservation lands, and centuries of abuse from racially oppressive state governments and vigilantes, maintaining cultural and geographical unity is difficult for modern Lumbees. Although the largest Lumbee population resides in Robeson County, eastern North Carolina, an exodus of young people searching for employment in the 1970s created an “urban Lumbee” population in southern cities like Baltimore. Out of the 250+ SPOHP interviews with people of Lumbee descent conducted in the early 1970s, over forty were completed in Baltimore. Many of the emigrants to major urban areas returned or hope to return to Robeson County one day, and still consider it “home.”

Further reading:

Catawba

I went out there and enrolled in school at Rock Hill High School…I went in and sat down and she said, what are you? A German, Polak or what? Dutch or what? Jew, Irish, or what? I can’t name it all. What are you? I said, well, I’m a full-blooded Catawba Indian. She says, well Lord a’ mercy, a full-blooded Indian? And I said, yes, just like that. And she says, you can’t be. And I said, well, I am.

-Howard George, 1972, CAT-013 and CAT-060

The Catawba Indians were one of the most powerful Indian tribes in the Southeast during the precontact and colonial periods, securing their present position on the North Carolina/South Carolina border sometime before European intrusion in 1567. In between then and now, the Indian slave trade, a smallpox epidemic, an illegal treaty with the state of South Carolina, a mass conversion to Mormonism, and the Civil War transformed Catawba survival strategies. James Merrell famously wrote in The Indians’ New World that “the Catawbas’ ability to cross the cultural divide was one secret to their survival. The other was their refusal, throughout the centuries, to remain on the far side.” Into the twentieth century, the Catawba actively incorporated both weaker Indian groups and white people, trading ideas and goods while retaining a separate cultural identity. The 150+ interviews in SPOHP’s collection with Catawba Indians, many completed by tribal members with tribal members, reveal their dual interests in heritage and life off of the reservation.

Further reading:

Virginia Indians

“We couldn’t find anything, no deer, no turkeys–nothing. My dad was chief then, and we knew we had to have something to present to the governor; so we went to a turkey farm, bought a live turkey, brought it back to the reservation and killed it. That way we were able to fulfill the terms of the treaty–after all it was killed on the reservation.”

-Chief Kevin Brown, from Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, We’re Still Here (2006)

The Pamunkey Indians and the British government technically have the longest-running treaty agreement in the world. Formerly the central group of the Powhatan Confederacy, and popularly known as the people of Pocahontas, they accepted tributary status offered by the governor of Virginia at the end of the final Anglo-Powhatan War in 1646. Their reservation, established in 1658, sits in King William County, ten miles south of the Mattaponi Indian Reservation. Like the Pamunkey, the Mattaponi trace their heritage to the Powhatan Confederacy, although the two groups maintain separate cultural and political identities. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi have survived by remaining neutral in non-Indian conflicts, handling internal matters in secret, and retaining the integrity of reservation land. Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 erased “Indian” as a racial or ethnic category, making it impossible to trace Indian populations or ancestry. Both the Pamunkey and Mattaponi are recognized by the state of Virginia, and the Pamunkey are currently in the process of applying for federal recognition.

SPOHP has four oral histories with Virginia Indians from the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes, conducted Helen Rountree, the anthropological expert on colonial history.

Further reading:

Cherokee

They put me in boarding school down there. They whupped me every day ’cause I’m talking my own language. Two or three boys was with me. We used to go way up in the woods and talk all we wanted to. Somebody goes out there and reports me and they’d whup me and put me to work. The year of 1914 I run off.

-Watty Chiltoskey, 1972, CHER-002

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee are descended from Indian men and women who, for a variety of reasons, did not experience the Trail of Tears in 1836. Today, the eastern Cherokee lands are scattered across Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, over eight thousand people occupy a trust known as the Qualla Boundary, south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Despite the relative isolation of Appalachia, like other Indian youth Cherokee children of the early and mid-twentieth century were targeted for assimilation into mainstream American culture. At least eight SPOHP oral histories were conducted in Cherokee, North Carolina, with tribal elders like Watty Chiltoskey in the early 1970s.

Further reading:

Choctaw

Reason why we organized at that time was that we didn’t have no kind of organization. Everybody was considered individuals. So when a little money involved, which was about forty thousand dollars that Shell Oil Company put out to lease the land for oil, then they wanted to know who was going to receive this money. So that’s when we suggest that we organize.

-Baxter York, 1973, MC-016

Like the Seminoles and Cherokee, the Choctaw tribe was divided during Indian Removal in the 1830s. Several thousand Choctaws avoided the Trail of Tears and stayed in Mississippi, and thereafter struggled against intensifying racial hierarchies. They survived the harsh social climate in the Deep South by simultaneously embracing Indian and American identities. Mississippian Choctaws fought alongside other Americans in international wars from 1812 to Vietnam, traded natural resources with US corporations, and reorganized their bylaws by basing them on the United States Constitution. SPOHP’s archives hold over thirty-five interviews conducted with tribal leaders, high school students, artisans, and elders.

Further reading:

For additional information, contact SPOHP, call the offices at (352) 392-7168, and connect with us online today. Photo “Old Tallahassee, Age 105,” from the Seminole collection.