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Seminole of Oklahoma

Seminole of Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Seminole are the descendants of that segment of the Seminole tribe that was removed from Florida to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) during and after the Second Seminole War (1836-1842). They are the larger part of the contemporary Seminole people, with a 1977 estimate by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of a population of over 9,000 as against about 2,000 in Florida (with about 1,303 on the Florida reservations in 1980). The two segments have much of their culture in common, but some differences have arisen since the 1840s. The Oklahoma Seminole now live in the prairie and scrub oak hill country of the central part of the state, a very different environment from semitropical Florida. They have maintained much of the traditional Southeastern Indian life-style and have retained some cultural forms mentioned in early accounts, but no longer in use in Florida. In contrast to the Florida group, which has separate Hitchiti- and Muskogee (Creek)-speaking components, almost all contemporary Oklahoma Seminole are Muskogee speakers (almost all speak English as well).

The Oklahoma Seminole today range from very conservative traditionalists to individuals who favor complete assimilation into mainstream American culture. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma has its capital in Wewoka, Oklahoma. It is governed by a principal chief and secondary chief, who are elected for four-year terms, and by a council of forty-two members, three for each of the fourteen bands or tribal towns. There are twelve recognized bands in the nation. Originally, each was a tribal town and had its own squareground. Today there are nine squaregrounds or tribal town organizations remaining, three of which are dormant and one new. There are twenty-eight matrilineal exogamous clans, which in the past regulated marriage and descent and punished various offenses.

The annual ceremonial cycle is very important. It begins in the spring with an all-night Stomp Dance. Other Stomp Dances follow in May and June. The high point of the cycle is the Green Corn Ceremony (Busk), which renews and purifies the sacred fire, maintains health and prosperity, and purifies the men before eating the ripening green corn; it is the time for bestowing Indian names upon and assigning clan seats to young men not previously initiated, and for recognizing certain tutelary spirits and maintaining their goodwill. This ceremony occurs in June or July; then there are more Stomp Dances in August, and in September the annual tribal holiday, "Seminole Days," held at Seminole, Oklahoma. After this there are various dances until winter.

The traditional Seminole world is suffused with magic, with a type of magic for every occasion. There is a strong belief in witches who cause illness, the latter being treated with magical and herbal remedies. They have a number of supernaturals, including the Great Horned Snake who can give power to individuals, the Little People (who are very small human beings), the Tall Men (ten feet high or more), and Long Ears, an animal with gray hair and ears like a hare, as well as others. They are devoted to sports of all kinds, both traditional and borrowed from mainstream culture. They have borrowed heavily from the non-Indian world, especially in the realm of technology, but they have managed to preserve the core of their traditional value system.

Much of their day-to-day life is that of the mainstream culturethey may be construction workers, rangers, teachers, nurses, shopkeepersbut they return to their traditional world on weekends. Most Seminoles are members of Christian denominations, principally Baptist or Presbyterian, but others follow the traditional religion. All are strongly committed to education and participation in modern economic life. The tribe as a whole was greatly affected by the opening of the Greater Seminole oil field in 1923, which brought prosperity to many Seminole families. The younger people are turning to a form of general American Indian (pan-Indian) culture, exemplified in powwows, war dancing, and the adoption of other American Indian cultural forms, particularly those of the Plains Indians.

See also Seminole

Bibliography

Freeman, Ethel Cutler (1964). "The Least Known of the Five Civilized Tribes: The Seminole of Oklahoma." Florida Anthropologist 17:139-152.

Howard, James H. (1984). Oklahoma Seminoles: Medicines, Magic, and Religion. In collaboration with Willie Lena. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Welsh, Louise (1976). "Seminole Colonization in Oklahoma." In America's Exiles: Indian Colonization in Oklahoma, edited by Arrell Morgan Gibson, 77-103. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society.

Work, Susan (1978). "The 'Terminated' Five Tribes of Oklahoma: The Effect of Federal Legislation on the Government of the Seminole Nation." American Indian Law Review 6:81-141.

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