Dr. Alaina Roberts: 2022 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize winner
The winner of the 2022 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize is author Alaina E. Roberts for "I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). Dr. Roberts is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh who studies the intersection of Black and Native American life from the Civil War to the modern day. She spoke at the Center for Great Plains Studies on Sept. 7, 2022.
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[00:00:03.900]Welcome to the Center for Great Plains Studies
[00:00:06.840]in the Great Plains Art Museum.
[00:00:08.310]We're really thrilled that you're here with us this evening
[00:00:12.150]to attend a lecture from Dr. Alaina Roberts.
[00:00:15.930]She's the winner of this year's 2021,
[00:00:19.680]Jim Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize.
[00:00:26.340]And I'm appreciative of all of you
[00:00:29.760]who are wearing your mask.
[00:00:31.890]You should know, there's no mask mandate on campus now,
[00:00:36.180]but if possible,
[00:00:37.290]we respectfully request that you wear a mask this evening
[00:00:40.980]to protect the health of all of us, each other,
[00:00:43.920]and our esteemed speaker.
[00:00:46.740]So I wanna begin by sharing with you
[00:00:50.010]that the University of Nebraska
[00:00:51.990]and the Center for Great Plain Studies
[00:00:54.450]is a land-grant institution.
[00:00:56.550]And we have campuses and programs
[00:00:59.070]on the past, present and future homelands
[00:01:01.950]of the Pawnee, Ponca, Otoe-Missouria, Omaha,
[00:01:05.370]Dakota, Lakota, Kaw, Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples,
[00:01:10.080]as well as those of the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa,
[00:01:14.130]Sac and Fox peoples.
[00:01:16.800]The land we currently call Nebraska
[00:01:19.110]has always been and will continue to be
[00:01:21.570]an Indigenous homeland.
[00:01:23.850]Please take a moment to consider the legacies
[00:01:26.460]of more than 150 years of displacement,
[00:01:29.444]violence, settlement, and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:38.730]I also wanna tell you a little bit about
[00:01:41.310]the Stubbendieck Book Prize.
[00:01:42.840]It began in 2005
[00:01:44.970]as the Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize
[00:01:48.030]to honor first edition nonfiction books
[00:01:51.208]on all aspects of the Great Plains.
[00:01:54.330]And we are deeply grateful to Jim and Cheryl Stubbendieck
[00:01:59.010]for funding this prize each year.
[00:02:02.490]This prize is an important recognition of the dynamic
[00:02:05.730]and vital scholarship and creative expression
[00:02:08.490]that occurs within and about our region.
[00:02:14.550]So I wanna introduce our speaker tonight.
[00:02:17.160]Dr. Alaina Roberts is an award winning,
[00:02:20.250]African American, Chickasaw and Choctaw historian
[00:02:24.120]who studies the intersection
[00:02:25.590]of Black and Native American life
[00:02:27.840]from the Civil War to the modern day.
[00:02:30.585]This focus originates from her own family history.
[00:02:34.950]Her father's ancestors survived
[00:02:37.170]Indian removals Trail of Tears
[00:02:39.330]and were owned as slaves by Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians.
[00:02:44.370]Dr. Roberts is currently an Assistant Professor of History
[00:02:47.400]at the University of Pittsburgh,
[00:02:49.440]and she holds a Doctorate in History from Indiana University
[00:02:52.680]and a Bachelor of Arts and History with Honors
[00:02:55.380]from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
[00:02:58.160]One of the things I most appreciate about Dr. Roberts
[00:03:01.560]is that in addition to being
[00:03:03.270]an incredibly rigorous academic historian,
[00:03:06.090]she's also a public intellectual.
[00:03:08.490]She's had writing appear in news outlets
[00:03:11.400]like the Washington Post, High Country News
[00:03:14.280]and Time Magazine.
[00:03:16.080]And she's been profiled by CNN,
[00:03:18.750]the Smithsonian Magazine and the Boston Globe.
[00:03:22.500]Also, another thing I really appreciate about her
[00:03:24.810]is her very multifaceted approach to a really complex topic.
[00:03:30.690]And I think some of the titles of her articles
[00:03:33.210]give you a clue to this approach.
[00:03:37.074]One article is titled,
[00:03:38.820]When Black Lives Matter Meets Indian Country,
[00:03:42.640]A Different Forty Acres, and My Ancestors Were Enslaved-
[00:03:48.630]But Their Freedom Came at a Price for Others.
[00:03:52.530]And then of course,
[00:03:53.490]there's the title of her amazing book,
[00:03:56.250]I've Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land.
[00:04:01.830]This book has not only won the Stubbendieck Book Prize.
[00:04:04.980]It's also garnered the 2021 Phillis Wheatley Book Award
[00:04:09.120]and was a finalist for the 2021 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
[00:04:13.770]and the 2022 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
[00:04:18.302]So just so you know,
[00:04:19.920]Dr. Roberts will be available to sign her books
[00:04:23.100]outside in the lobby after her talk.
[00:04:26.580]And before I give her over the podium,
[00:04:31.470]I really wanna present her
[00:04:33.180]with all the trappings of this book award.
[00:04:36.870]The first of which is this beautiful medallion.
[00:04:40.470]The second of which is this nice check.
[00:04:44.730]And the third of which is a t-shirt
[00:04:47.700]from our Reckoning and Reconciliation series.
[00:04:59.970]And now I invite you to share with us more about your book.
[00:05:11.891]Well, thank you so much.
[00:05:15.570]This means even more coming from Margaret,
[00:05:17.310]because we've shared times in LA when I was in Los Angeles
[00:05:20.940]for the LA Times Book Prize.
[00:05:23.910]And thank you so much all of you who are here,
[00:05:26.310]all of you who are watching via the live stream.
[00:05:29.820]It's really amazing to be here,
[00:05:31.560]not just because of the medal and the check,
[00:05:35.640]but also because I have so much respect for the Center
[00:05:39.450]as a home of Reconciliation Rising, Great Plains Quarterly,
[00:05:43.530]the Black Homesteaders Project,
[00:05:45.270]among other great initiatives,
[00:05:47.100]the research that flows from this space
[00:05:49.959]is really funded by and a center
[00:05:53.334]that I think is seeking a fuller
[00:05:55.260]and more inclusive version of history.
[00:05:58.140]And a story that if read correctly
[00:06:00.930]can help us better relate to one another
[00:06:04.080]and account for the wrongdoings of the past.
[00:06:07.410]And so that is exactly what I really tried to do in my book,
[00:06:11.355]I've Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land.
[00:06:14.490]So as Margaret said, my ancestors were Black, Chickasaw,
[00:06:18.240]Choctaw and white men and women.
[00:06:20.850]And so I try to tell a narrative that includes all of them,
[00:06:24.090]examining their actions in a way that doesn't romanticize,
[00:06:26.910]but humanizes them,
[00:06:29.490]with the hope that those who read it
[00:06:31.200]will be horrified at some parts of our past,
[00:06:34.620]but also feel inspired to do better in the present.
[00:06:38.760]And so for those of you who have not yet read the book,
[00:06:41.310]I'm gonna give you a little taste of what's inside.
[00:06:43.650]Maybe I can persuade you to buy it and read it.
[00:06:47.820]So the mixed race ancestry that I possess
[00:06:50.790]for me comes about because my father's family
[00:06:53.610]were owned as slaves by the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians.
[00:06:56.670]And some of them were owned by the Colberts,
[00:06:58.470]who are one of the wealthiest,
[00:07:01.290]most influential family members
[00:07:03.510]and families within the Choctaw Indian Nation.
[00:07:06.600]Some of them were owned by a white man
[00:07:08.460]who married a Chickasaw Indian woman
[00:07:10.170]and lived within the Chickasaw Indian Nation.
[00:07:12.870]A few of those ancestors are on my book cover.
[00:07:16.253]And so this is the history of slavery
[00:07:18.150]that of course is not often included
[00:07:20.550]in these broader narratives
[00:07:21.600]that we tell about American history.
[00:07:24.480]But thousands of families like mine
[00:07:26.670]lived and labored in these Indian Nations.
[00:07:29.460]And so, how did this come about?
[00:07:31.980]So, very broadly encapsulating lots and lots of history
[00:07:36.960]into a few pages.
[00:07:39.570]With the birth of the United States,
[00:07:41.310]white American politicians and philanthropists
[00:07:44.550]and other people that we think of as founding families,
[00:07:47.820]of course began to pressure Native people
[00:07:49.830]into giving up their land, selling it for pennies.
[00:07:53.820]And also along with this project
[00:07:55.920]was the attempt to civilize them.
[00:07:58.140]And of course,
[00:07:58.973]civilization means making them more like white Americans.
[00:08:01.860]And so encouraging them to dress like white Americans,
[00:08:05.430]speak like them,
[00:08:06.733]introduce political structures
[00:08:08.490]like that of the United States.
[00:08:10.560]For example, Henry Knox,
[00:08:11.850]who was the Secretary of War
[00:08:13.140]under president George Washington,
[00:08:15.000]advocated what he called the civilization policy.
[00:08:17.850]And so he believed that if Indians
[00:08:19.860]would give up their land to white Americans,
[00:08:22.770]then they would slowly over time
[00:08:24.450]become more like white Americans.
[00:08:26.280]And so of course this includes capitalism,
[00:08:28.830]private property ownership,
[00:08:30.120]things that most native people did not believe in.
[00:08:32.852]It wasn't at all part of their societies.
[00:08:36.000]And so in this scenario,
[00:08:37.320]Indians would then use these reduced land holdings
[00:08:40.200]as property owners who over time
[00:08:43.440]assimilated into American society.
[00:08:45.660]And this is of course interesting
[00:08:46.950]because people of African descent
[00:08:48.630]did not have that same opportunity
[00:08:50.100]and were not seen as people able to assimilate.
[00:08:53.910]And so all Indian Nations took on various facets
[00:08:56.640]of white American culture,
[00:08:58.950]strategically choosing some things that they liked
[00:09:02.340]and found interesting and helpful
[00:09:03.630]and ignoring other things that they didn't
[00:09:06.030]for a long period of time.
[00:09:07.650]So the Chickasaw Nation for a long time
[00:09:09.690]was not interested in missionaries.
[00:09:12.180]And so they ignored a lot of the Christians
[00:09:13.770]who were sent into their nation, sending them away.
[00:09:17.370]But many of the wealthiest and most influential members
[00:09:20.280]of the Five Indian Nations decided that slave ownership
[00:09:23.670]was something that could help them.
[00:09:25.830]And so those fived Indian Nations
[00:09:27.270]are the Chickasaw and Choctaw of course,
[00:09:28.830]which I've mentioned,
[00:09:29.820]the Cherokee, the Creek and the Seminole.
[00:09:32.130]And so for my purposes today,
[00:09:33.510]I'm going to refer to them as the Five Tribes.
[00:09:35.760]Historically, scholars have referred to them
[00:09:37.680]as the Five Civilized Tribes,
[00:09:39.630]which is of course problematic,
[00:09:41.460]but reflects historically
[00:09:43.200]what white Americans thought about them,
[00:09:45.180]that they were different, that they were better.
[00:09:48.600]And so today, of course,
[00:09:49.980]these are some of the most important and recognizable
[00:09:52.890]Indian Nations in the country.
[00:09:54.870]The Cherokees are often in the news, the Creeks,
[00:09:57.630]the Seminoles in Florida,
[00:09:59.580]all of these are Indian Nations
[00:10:00.960]that do a lot for their communities.
[00:10:02.880]But today I'm gonna tell you that some of the things
[00:10:05.970]that they're able to do are based on a foundation
[00:10:08.100]of slave holding.
[00:10:09.630]That's where some of that economic success comes from.
[00:10:14.243]because of their willingness to intermarry
[00:10:17.340]with white Americans, to change their government structures,
[00:10:20.880]to have a tripartite government like the United States,
[00:10:24.330]to use American political language, to create newspapers,
[00:10:28.140]all of these things that members of these Five Tribes did,
[00:10:30.840]they gained this name and this idea
[00:10:33.090]that they were different than Western Indian peoples
[00:10:36.150]who lived for example here.
[00:10:39.480]And so the elites in these Indian Nations,
[00:10:41.520]many of whom were mixed race
[00:10:43.155]began to buy enslaved Black people,
[00:10:46.680]often from white Americans.
[00:10:48.300]And this was really only one part of the way
[00:10:50.340]that they were involved in a slave economy.
[00:10:52.290]And so the Chickasaws
[00:10:53.640]started off actually as people who would raid
[00:10:57.480]and steal enslaved people from other white Americans
[00:11:00.840]and other Indian Nations.
[00:11:02.340]And then when an enslaved person would go missing,
[00:11:05.400]they would often be the ones called to find them.
[00:11:07.560]So they were slave catchers essentially.
[00:11:09.600]And so they gradually moved into slave ownership themselves.
[00:11:13.912]Now, slave ownership was also an important part
[00:11:16.470]of these Indian Nations through things like legislation.
[00:11:19.279]And so when we think about the laws that govern slavery,
[00:11:22.260]like not allowing Black people to read or write,
[00:11:25.530]not allowing them to own guns,
[00:11:27.300]all these same sorts of regulations
[00:11:28.920]were also present in these Indian Nations.
[00:11:31.740]And so if we think of the United States
[00:11:33.300]as a society with slaves,
[00:11:36.420]then we should also think of these in Indian Nations
[00:11:38.250]as very similar political entities.
[00:11:42.330]But when the 1830s came about,
[00:11:45.030]really beginning from the earlier 1800s,
[00:11:48.570]these Indian Nations were affected just like Indian Nations
[00:11:51.660]across the country, especially in the east and southeast.
[00:11:54.090]And so I'm talking about the beginning
[00:11:55.500]of what we call the removal period.
[00:11:57.510]And so as the United States grows and grows,
[00:12:00.360]white Americans are really more and more interested
[00:12:03.000]in pushing Native people out of the Eastern Southeast.
[00:12:06.030]And so the connection that I wanna make to Indian removal
[00:12:08.640]is the expansion of the plantation economy.
[00:12:11.550]And so, white Americans who owned large tracks of land,
[00:12:15.720]look at places like Mississippi and Georgia,
[00:12:18.780]and think, I want that land.
[00:12:20.940]I want that fertile productive land.
[00:12:23.100]And the reason they know it's productive
[00:12:24.360]is because there are already Native American slave owners
[00:12:26.790]with huge lucrative plantations on that land.
[00:12:30.720]And so these are really some of the original southerners
[00:12:33.840]and some of them already own slaves.
[00:12:35.607]And so the people that then move in after Indian removal
[00:12:39.270]are also slaveholders
[00:12:40.500]who are really just kind of continuing that tradition.
[00:12:43.770]And so in order to get to Indian removal, we have of course,
[00:12:46.950]various treaties that are made and then broken.
[00:12:49.860]We have various kind of communications and relationships
[00:12:53.318]with people in these Five Tribes.
[00:12:55.260]A lot of whom are intermarried white men,
[00:12:57.690]and they're descendants who sometimes go to law school,
[00:13:01.110]sometimes have slightly more advantageous relationships
[00:13:04.620]with American politicians.
[00:13:07.140]But the kind of difference that I am gonna try to make clear
[00:13:11.683]in the rest of this talk is that even though
[00:13:13.800]I'm telling you the Five Tribes are seen as different
[00:13:16.230]than other Native people,
[00:13:17.760]ultimately, when it comes down to it,
[00:13:19.290]that doesn't mean that they're protected
[00:13:20.760]from things like Indian removal.
[00:13:22.560]And so, for example,
[00:13:23.550]you may be aware of the Cherokees
[00:13:24.900]and the lawsuits that they file.
[00:13:27.240]Yes, they know that they should file a lawsuit
[00:13:29.250]because this is what they're told civilized people do,
[00:13:32.010]but ultimately, they're still forced to move.
[00:13:34.835]And so after white settlers begin squatting on their lands,
[00:13:38.220]after state governments make clear
[00:13:40.080]that they are continuing to
[00:13:42.210]really force Native Nations
[00:13:43.830]to try to follow in the state government's laws illegally,
[00:13:48.030]they move, through the 1820s and 1830s.
[00:13:50.610]And they move to what is called Indian Territory
[00:13:53.340]at the time, which is today known as the state of Oklahoma.
[00:13:57.378]And so for people like my family members,
[00:14:00.930]Indian removal was a Black and Native story.
[00:14:04.530]And so they are following their slave owners.
[00:14:07.110]They are helping their slave owners,
[00:14:08.730]chopping wood for them, making food for them,
[00:14:11.310]making sure their children are taken care of.
[00:14:14.040]And so these are two different groups of people
[00:14:15.990]who are experiencing a horrific event
[00:14:18.360]that is removing them from their homes,
[00:14:20.730]but they're experiencing it in a different way.
[00:14:23.220]And so of course,
[00:14:24.120]Indian removal is important and foundational
[00:14:26.430]for these Indian Nations.
[00:14:28.320]But when you think about it,
[00:14:29.370]there is another group of people
[00:14:30.630]that is even more disenfranchised and oppressed
[00:14:34.200]along this journey.
[00:14:38.100]So most Native history at this point
[00:14:41.190]talks about Indian removal,
[00:14:43.740]gets into maybe rebuilding, which is important,
[00:14:47.790]but it doesn't usually talk about the fact that
[00:14:49.740]there are already Native Americans
[00:14:51.450]living in this Western space that is Indian Territory.
[00:14:55.620]And so the first part of my book
[00:14:57.060]looks at what it means that these Five Tribes
[00:14:59.550]are coming into a space where they're already Native people
[00:15:01.590]who very much claim this as their homeland,
[00:15:04.740]who have a different culture.
[00:15:05.880]They are considered itinerate, and so they claim this space,
[00:15:10.200]but they claim other spaces as well.
[00:15:11.730]They move, they migrate.
[00:15:13.440]And so, to the United States, these people aren't civilized.
[00:15:17.220]And so they don't deserve the same kind of respect
[00:15:20.190]for their claiming this land.
[00:15:22.140]And so this is why the Five Tribes are moved onto this,
[00:15:24.930]and really they have a choice
[00:15:26.970]with how they're going to react to and relate
[00:15:29.340]to these other Native people.
[00:15:31.290]And the choice that they make
[00:15:32.370]is that they are going to treat them differently
[00:15:35.160]and treat them like the United States does.
[00:15:38.010]And so Native people like the Osage and the Wichita,
[00:15:41.250]as well as other Plains people
[00:15:43.603]become really part of a group of people
[00:15:46.500]that are called uncivilized, savage, different,
[00:15:50.850]by people in the Five Tribes, by other Native Americans.
[00:15:54.870]And so a lot of the language that I would see
[00:15:56.550]when looking at these documents
[00:15:57.900]is something that I wouldn't be surprised
[00:15:59.880]to see come out of the mouth of a white American,
[00:16:01.980]but was surprising to see another Native American
[00:16:05.460]saying things like this.
[00:16:07.230]Because we don't usually think of the diversity in thought
[00:16:11.550]within Native Americans in that way, I think.
[00:16:15.420]And so, what I saw when looking at these sources
[00:16:18.030]and writing this book
[00:16:18.960]is that the Five Tribes were really creating a story
[00:16:22.230]about themselves in their new homeland.
[00:16:24.360]And that's what every nation of people does.
[00:16:26.850]They create stories about themselves to create an identity,
[00:16:30.060]especially after trials and tribulations.
[00:16:34.230]But the way that the Five Tribes did this,
[00:16:36.030]the way they created a culture and an identity
[00:16:38.967]and a narrative about themselves
[00:16:40.740]is that they were coming off a Trail of Tears
[00:16:43.920]and there was a wilderness.
[00:16:45.690]There was no society, there was no culture.
[00:16:46.970]There were no other people.
[00:16:48.556]They were the first here.
[00:16:50.040]And they were going to create institutions
[00:16:51.810]like churches, like homes,
[00:16:53.430]like the other kinds of permanent establishments
[00:16:55.830]that the United States considers civilized.
[00:16:58.920]And so if you even look at some of the public history
[00:17:01.710]in Oklahoma today,
[00:17:03.360]that people like the Cherokee and the Chickasaws have,
[00:17:06.720]you're not usually going to see mentioned
[00:17:08.610]that there are other native people here,
[00:17:10.500]and you're going to see that there are establishing things
[00:17:12.660]that they call the first.
[00:17:16.500]And so the use of language like uncivilized or wilderness,
[00:17:20.782]I think is important to really seeing how Native people are,
[00:17:25.470]I think very strategically using this language
[00:17:28.140]to better their position.
[00:17:29.700]To make themselves appear as if they are more similar
[00:17:33.510]to white Americans than to these other Native people,
[00:17:36.270]in order to gain benefits.
[00:17:38.190]Some of those benefits are hoping for protection
[00:17:40.710]from these Native people who of course
[00:17:41.940]see them as interlopers.
[00:17:44.070]And these Plains peoples, they do steal from them.
[00:17:47.400]They do raid, they do steal enslaved people.
[00:17:50.220]They do sometimes kill people.
[00:17:53.310]They see them as being on their land, of course.
[00:17:56.310]And so they do need protection.
[00:17:58.084]They asked the United States for a fort,
[00:17:59.970]which is eventually built.
[00:18:02.790]But I think in history,
[00:18:04.590]we often talk about the choices that people have.
[00:18:07.020]And I think we should see this as an act of choice.
[00:18:09.395]How do they want to protect themselves?
[00:18:11.640]How do they wanna call upon the United States for help?
[00:18:14.430]The choice they made was to situate themselves
[00:18:17.160]more on the side of white Americans
[00:18:19.920]than on the side of these other Native people.
[00:18:22.020]So creating a juxtaposition,
[00:18:23.640]which becomes really clear when looking at these sources.
[00:18:28.110]But there are three groups of people
[00:18:31.380]largely defined that I look at in this book.
[00:18:33.480]And so the Five Tribes are not the first
[00:18:35.280]to make these sort of arguments
[00:18:36.660]about how they deserve protection
[00:18:38.610]and they deserve this land over another group of people.
[00:18:41.610]And so the next group of people comes after the Civil War.
[00:18:45.240]And so, if you weren't already aware,
[00:18:47.310]these five Indian Nations,
[00:18:48.630]in addition to about a dozen other Indian Nations
[00:18:51.570]fight in the Civil War.
[00:18:52.920]And so for the Five Tribes,
[00:18:54.510]they are protecting the institution of slavery
[00:18:57.000]for many people,
[00:18:58.170]but also fighting against a government
[00:19:00.030]that they see as one that has not upheld
[00:19:02.280]many of their promises and guarantees.
[00:19:05.040]And so, the Confederacy, hoping to woo them,
[00:19:07.740]makes promises to them
[00:19:09.090]that the United States is seemingly not keeping.
[00:19:12.000]And so they say,
[00:19:13.350]hey, we know that you sold the land
[00:19:15.600]that you had in the Southeast for pennies
[00:19:17.310]and the United States isn't even paying it to you
[00:19:19.260]in the way they're supposed to.
[00:19:20.940]We'll do better.
[00:19:22.200]We will pay that to you now.
[00:19:25.200]They also say, okay,
[00:19:26.400]we'll protect you during the Civil War.
[00:19:28.650]The United States does not send any soldiers to help them.
[00:19:31.170]In fact, the US destroys guns
[00:19:33.450]instead of just giving them to Native people
[00:19:35.010]to defend themselves.
[00:19:37.470]And then the Confederacy also draws upon
[00:19:39.960]a shared Southern identity.
[00:19:41.940]The Five Tribes are the original southerners.
[00:19:44.010]There is shared food, culture,
[00:19:46.590]life ways, we would call it in academia.
[00:19:49.860]And so this is an attractive proposition to the Five Tribes,
[00:19:53.250]especially because there isn't a counter
[00:19:55.740]from the United States, really.
[00:19:56.970]They're ignoring them essentially,
[00:19:58.410]thinking they're gonna stay loyal.
[00:19:59.970]It's not a big deal.
[00:20:03.603]And so, as we get into the Civil War,
[00:20:06.889]members of the Five Tribes fight on both sides.
[00:20:10.440]Some for the United States, some for the Confederacy.
[00:20:13.145]Of course we know the outcome, the Confederacy loses.
[00:20:16.410]And with that,
[00:20:17.550]the United States really takes this as an opportunity
[00:20:20.520]to say, hey, we know that we didn't do much for you,
[00:20:24.150]but you fought for the Confederacy, that's disloyal.
[00:20:27.540]And so we're not going to acknowledge
[00:20:28.980]any of your previous treaties
[00:20:30.780]until you sign a new treaty with US.
[00:20:33.120]The Treaties of 1866,
[00:20:34.920]which play a very important role in my book.
[00:20:37.320]Because I see these as the end of the Civil War,
[00:20:40.260]but also the beginning of reconstruction
[00:20:42.630]in Indian Territory.
[00:20:44.130]And so really arguing that we need to look at
[00:20:46.290]this post-Civil War period as a very clear parallel
[00:20:49.500]to the period in the United States,
[00:20:50.820]because not only do you have enslaved people
[00:20:53.197]who are finding emancipation, finding liberty of their own,
[00:20:59.010]but also you have a society
[00:21:00.270]that had an economy based on slavery now no longer does.
[00:21:04.950]And so what is going to happen,
[00:21:06.150]not just in the social world,
[00:21:07.740]but also politically and economically?
[00:21:10.470]And so in these Treaties of 1866,
[00:21:12.510]the United States does these things
[00:21:15.120]that I see as very positive for people like my family,
[00:21:17.820]like forces them to free enslaved people.
[00:21:20.844]It also forces these Indian Nations to give them land.
[00:21:25.017]And so my family got 40 acres of land.
[00:21:29.400]And so, learning about this when I was in college
[00:21:32.280]was mind blowing because I had read a lot
[00:21:35.070]about Black history.
[00:21:36.390]I had read a lot about how African Americans
[00:21:38.790]in the United States felt failed
[00:21:40.866]because they did not have anything
[00:21:42.870]to start over with after the war.
[00:21:45.240]Despite the fact that many of them had asked for land
[00:21:48.390]as something to really kind of make work themselves.
[00:21:52.944]And so knowing that the United States
[00:21:54.660]had really been the entity that allowed for this to happen
[00:21:59.880]for people like my family members
[00:22:01.980]who still have that land today, was amazing.
[00:22:06.900]But at the same time, in those same treaties,
[00:22:09.540]they force these Indian Nations
[00:22:10.830]to give away hundreds of thousands of acres of land.
[00:22:14.267]And that was all land that they had previously promised,
[00:22:16.890]you will never have to give this up.
[00:22:18.540]We know we forced you to move.
[00:22:20.430]Now, you're gonna be there forever.
[00:22:21.690]No white people will ever bother you.
[00:22:24.098]And that was clearly becoming
[00:22:26.130]obviously that was not the case.
[00:22:27.960]Because they wanted them to sell this land
[00:22:30.630]so that white Americans could take it over.
[00:22:33.390]And so looking at these treaties
[00:22:34.680]and looking at this period of time is so interesting for me,
[00:22:38.160]not just as a historian, but also as a descendant,
[00:22:40.740]because when historians look at these treaties
[00:22:43.920]in this period of time for Native American Nations,
[00:22:47.760]And I very much understand that,
[00:22:50.970]but for people of African descent, former slaves,
[00:22:54.150]this is an opportunity that almost no one got
[00:22:57.780]throughout the entire world of former slaves.
[00:23:05.730]And so people like my family
[00:23:09.090]see the United States really as an entity
[00:23:11.370]that is giving them a chance
[00:23:15.060]that their former slave owners did not.
[00:23:17.340]And so when they talk about their former slave owners
[00:23:22.380]you can see that they are, like the Five Tribes,
[00:23:25.140]strategically making a decision about whose side
[00:23:28.320]that they are going to be on.
[00:23:30.319]And so they're not gonna choose for most of them,
[00:23:33.365]the side of their former slaves.
[00:23:35.040]Instead they talk about white Americans
[00:23:37.950]as really people that they want to emulate.
[00:23:41.700]And so when they are asked about their former slave owners,
[00:23:44.970]for example, one enslaved man
[00:23:47.940]said that he wanted to be more like white Americans
[00:23:50.430]and create a productive farm
[00:23:52.410]because his former slave owners only grew
[00:23:55.350]as much as they needed to survive.
[00:23:57.396]And so this is something that we see again and again
[00:23:59.870]in sources talking about Native people,
[00:24:01.530]that a lot of these people,
[00:24:03.660]especially those who are not slave owners,
[00:24:05.700]are only looking to make as much as they need to survive,
[00:24:10.710]to grow as much as they need to survive.
[00:24:12.210]It's not the kind of capitalist worldview
[00:24:14.880]that white Americans are used to.
[00:24:19.710]really he talks about how he wants to follow
[00:24:23.130]this kind of new way,
[00:24:24.818]the new way of those who have shown him
[00:24:27.810]that they're willing to help him with this change
[00:24:30.600]in transitioning from enslaved to free.
[00:24:35.076]And so, when we get into people of African descent,
[00:24:38.430]I think it's an interesting question
[00:24:40.710]because we're looking at freedom in a different way.
[00:24:45.750]In a way where freedom allows people to make choices,
[00:24:51.150]choices that they didn't have the opportunity to make
[00:24:53.430]as enslaved people.
[00:24:54.724]But choices also that can have negative consequences
[00:24:58.050]for other people.
[00:24:59.460]And so, when African Americans from the United States
[00:25:01.800]see that these former slaves of Indians have land,
[00:25:05.670]they write about it.
[00:25:06.690]They're interested in it.
[00:25:07.920]They see, again,
[00:25:08.850]this is an opportunity that wasn't presented to them.
[00:25:11.220]And so they stream in by the hundreds of thousands
[00:25:13.890]going into the 1870s and 1880s.
[00:25:16.530]And so this is why we have all of the Black towns
[00:25:19.380]that Oklahoma has.
[00:25:20.730]This is why we have Tulsa's Greenwood District,
[00:25:23.790]Black Wall Street,
[00:25:25.110]because African Americans see this part of the West
[00:25:28.920]and other parts of the West,
[00:25:30.387]as places where they would have opportunities
[00:25:32.940]that they don't have in the South.
[00:25:35.160]And so, when we look at sources
[00:25:37.020]from those African Americans in newspapers,
[00:25:39.762]in the pamphlets distributed by speculators
[00:25:43.975]and in leading Black educators
[00:25:47.520]and politicians and philosophers,
[00:25:50.606]we see that they talk about the West
[00:25:52.410]as a place where African Americans can go
[00:25:54.150]to make something of themselves,
[00:25:55.860]to have something of their own.
[00:25:57.737]It's a rhetoric very similar to that
[00:26:00.090]that we see among white Americans going West, young man.
[00:26:03.977]But it's different, I think because first of all,
[00:26:08.040]we don't usually put African Americans
[00:26:10.170]in the space of a settler, of a homesteader,
[00:26:12.930]which of course is, this center is working to change.
[00:26:17.663]if we're putting them in the space of a homesteader
[00:26:20.070]or a settler,
[00:26:21.330]then we also need to look at what that means
[00:26:23.970]in the greater kind of picture,
[00:26:25.290]in the greater symbol of what homesteaders
[00:26:28.110]and settlers are doing.
[00:26:29.610]And so on one hand, of course,
[00:26:30.750]they're realizing freedom for themselves
[00:26:32.400]and economic opportunity,
[00:26:33.870]which is important for both white and Black Americans,
[00:26:35.668]because there are a lot of white Americans
[00:26:37.350]also stuck in the kind of economic drudges of society.
[00:26:41.700]But at the same time,
[00:26:42.600]if we're saying that they're going west to find this land,
[00:26:45.750]we know that this land is not empty.
[00:26:48.540]Someone claims this land,
[00:26:50.280]whether they are literally standing upon it,
[00:26:53.340]or if they are elsewhere,
[00:26:56.701]knowing that their nation
[00:26:58.380]still thinks of it as their homeland.
[00:27:01.230]And so, if we think of Black history in this way,
[00:27:06.002]it complicates it a little bit.
[00:27:08.550]And so one of the sources that I found
[00:27:10.620]that was very interesting to me was Frederick Douglass.
[00:27:14.130]Within two different speeches
[00:27:15.930]in the space of about five years after the Civil War,
[00:27:18.270]he talks about the West as a homeland,
[00:27:21.330]as a place for African Americans.
[00:27:23.670]He tries to get the United States to spend money
[00:27:25.920]to settle African Americans in these various spaces,
[00:27:29.520]saying, look, Black Americans are your brothers.
[00:27:33.001]We've lived with you for hundreds of years.
[00:27:36.420]We are civilized like you.
[00:27:37.950]And we can change the West,
[00:27:39.630]unlike these Native people who have not done this.
[00:27:43.770]And so he uses the keywords that we see
[00:27:46.170]amongst the Chickasaws and the Cherokees
[00:27:48.330]and these ideas that white Americans have created
[00:27:50.850]to talk about how the West is supposedly a wilderness
[00:27:53.760]and we need Black and white Americans to settle this
[00:27:56.640]and civilize this.
[00:27:59.190]And so when I read this, of course,
[00:28:01.290]this just doesn't jive
[00:28:02.400]with what I think about Frederick Douglass
[00:28:03.960]as a man who thinks about all kind of oppressed peoples
[00:28:07.320]in a similar way.
[00:28:09.000]And I know that he is very aware
[00:28:10.530]of Native people, of Native activists.
[00:28:13.576]And so again,
[00:28:14.430]this is a very pointed strategy
[00:28:16.590]to try to help African Americans.
[00:28:19.740]But who is it benefiting and who is it hurting?
[00:28:24.570]I think that we have to think about that
[00:28:25.980]when we think of what freedom means after emancipation
[00:28:29.370]and what settlement means for people of all races.
[00:28:40.080]And so my family story,
[00:28:42.690]as I did research as an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara
[00:28:48.810]was amazing to me because even as a kid,
[00:28:51.990]not really caring about history
[00:28:53.640]or anything the grown folks were saying,
[00:28:56.460]I realized that it was important and rare
[00:28:58.620]that I could go to Ardmore Oklahoma
[00:29:00.390]and see the church that my family built in the 1800s.
[00:29:03.810]And knowing that we had a parcel of land
[00:29:06.750]going back hundreds of years,
[00:29:08.040]that someday will be mine and a hundred other peoples.
[00:29:14.640]But as I wrote this book,
[00:29:15.930]I realized what that legacy actually means in broader terms.
[00:29:21.960]That it can be important to me,
[00:29:24.390]but also that it is part of a larger dispossession
[00:29:27.060]of Native peoples.
[00:29:28.770]And that at the same time,
[00:29:29.640]those Native people enslaved my own family members.
[00:29:32.190]And so it's oppression upon oppression,
[00:29:35.640]really all spearheaded by a white settler state
[00:29:40.890]that helped these various groups at various points of time.
[00:29:44.940]And yet ultimately, did nothing to help them
[00:29:47.910]because white Americans and white settlers
[00:29:49.950]were really the ultimate beneficiaries.
[00:29:53.910]And so when thinking about this history,
[00:29:57.005]I also was thinking about the relationships
[00:29:59.790]between people of color today.
[00:30:01.920]And so I finished the book, luckily before COVID,
[00:30:06.330]but when there were instances in the news
[00:30:09.900]about anti-Asian violence
[00:30:12.270]and some of those perpetrators were Black men,
[00:30:14.790]people talked about, well,
[00:30:15.810]what does this mean that Black people
[00:30:17.834]can also have anti-Asian sentiment?
[00:30:21.570]I thought about the things in my book
[00:30:23.130]and how people of color are inculcated
[00:30:26.130]with the same ideas of racism,
[00:30:28.860]xenophobia, stereotypes that everyone else is.
[00:30:33.180]And so, we're not resistant to it
[00:30:34.830]just because we're not white.
[00:30:36.600]And white Americans aren't the only kind of people here
[00:30:39.330]who can have those sorts of ideas.
[00:30:41.970]And so, I really would like to think that my book
[00:30:47.130]is part of a conversation about how
[00:30:50.310]not just Black and white people
[00:30:52.800]need to relate to one another and think about our histories,
[00:30:55.260]but also how people of color
[00:30:57.150]need to interact with each other and relate to each other
[00:30:59.850]and think about how the broader settler state
[00:31:03.000]has changed our minds about various things
[00:31:06.990]and how we can change them back
[00:31:09.270]and heal and repair and all those sorts of cheesy things.
[00:31:13.080]And I just hope that my book can be
[00:31:16.655]even just a small part of that.
[00:31:18.960]So, thank you so much for listening.
[00:31:31.505]We have time for some questions,
[00:31:33.540]if anybody would like to ask Alaina
[00:31:35.490]or Dr. Roberts a question.
[00:31:51.180]I could hear you.
[00:31:52.169](audience member laughs)
[00:31:53.940]I was just saying thank you for your talk
[00:31:55.950]and for your book and what it's adding
[00:31:57.870]to the historiography.
[00:31:59.520]And as you were talking about Frederick Douglass,
[00:32:02.910]I was thinking specifically about Liberia, right?
[00:32:05.970]Because there's that tension
[00:32:08.229]about whether or not Blacks should go to the West
[00:32:10.830]or should they go quote, back to Africa.
[00:32:13.530]And again, that civilization mission language
[00:32:16.560]is being used for proponents of both,
[00:32:19.350]that these are individuals cuz they've bought into,
[00:32:22.410]as you said,
[00:32:23.243]the white settler logic of civilization and Christianity
[00:32:28.860]and so forth.
[00:32:29.940]And so, I was wondering as you started to do that,
[00:32:34.860]your own research that led to this book.
[00:32:37.620]Did you see other figures outside of Douglass
[00:32:40.860]who are also trying to juxtapose the West
[00:32:45.990]as a kind of place for Blacks and other places in the world,
[00:32:48.660]whether it's Haiti or Liberia.
[00:32:51.888]And we do know that there are,
[00:32:53.730]I don't know the exact details,
[00:32:56.070]but there are some people who leave the Chickasaw Nation
[00:32:58.200]I think, and come to Liberia.
[00:33:00.000]And I don't remember who wrote that book, but yeah.
[00:33:02.070]So I was just wondering if you know,
[00:33:04.068]of any of those kinds of discussions,
[00:33:06.270]particularly within Oklahoma, amongst Black people.
[00:33:09.607]Yeah, I think the book you're thinking of
[00:33:11.520]is Kendra Field's book.
[00:33:13.260]Growing Up In the Country.
[00:33:14.910]And yeah, she talks about how
[00:33:16.410]there is this kind of migration,
[00:33:19.410]I guess I can't call it circular migration necessarily,
[00:33:21.780]but there are lots of African Americans,
[00:33:24.120]who after the Civil War are looking for this
[00:33:26.430]kind of racial paradise that of course doesn't exist.
[00:33:29.100]And so they go to Kansas, then they go to Oklahoma.
[00:33:32.520]Then they go to California.
[00:33:34.380]Sometimes Liberia or some part of Africa is in there.
[00:33:37.500]And so they're really traveling around
[00:33:39.960]using the stories of people who have gone before them
[00:33:43.110]and what they say about that to try to find these spaces.
[00:33:47.400]But definitely the most similarities I found
[00:33:49.350]were with Liberia.
[00:33:50.340]And I have a colleague at University of Pittsburgh
[00:33:52.830]who is a specialist on Liberia.
[00:33:54.166]And we talked about a lot of those similarities
[00:33:57.930]and how they're of course are still lingering resentment
[00:34:00.480]and differences between African American immigrants
[00:34:03.570]and those descendants in Liberia
[00:34:04.920]and Indigenous Liberians who were treated very similarly,
[00:34:08.393]who of course were told that they were not as civilized
[00:34:11.790]because these people are coming from the United States
[00:34:13.771]and they have all these different, better ideas.
[00:34:16.350]They have these financial backers.
[00:34:17.790]And so yeah, it's so similar.
[00:34:20.250]And I've given talks at different workshops
[00:34:22.710]where people tell me that there's also a similar
[00:34:25.320]kind of settler, indigenous dichotomy
[00:34:27.240]within the places they study in Asia,
[00:34:30.180]various parts of Europe, even.
[00:34:31.560]So yeah, there is so much similarity
[00:34:34.020]and it's not just the white American settler state
[00:34:37.470]that has all these ideas.
[00:34:38.760]Every group of people has a group
[00:34:40.950]that they think is superior.
[00:34:42.330]And of course, then groups that are beneath that
[00:34:44.580]on whatever hierarchy that they've created.
[00:35:02.873][Audience Member 2] Thank you.
[00:35:04.380]Well, I know that you couldn't cover everything
[00:35:07.620]in this short talk,
[00:35:09.090]but I noticed that you didn't mention
[00:35:12.090]anything in the 1866 treaties
[00:35:15.210]about the influence of railroads.
[00:35:18.630]So did you look into that any?
[00:35:22.721]I think that is an important part of
[00:35:27.120]seeing how the treaties are really about the opening up
[00:35:30.210]of Indian territory and about the eventual settlement.
[00:35:34.110]Yes, it doesn't really play as big a part in my book.
[00:35:37.950]I talk about how the railroads begin to be,
[00:35:42.168]you know they draw white Americans,
[00:35:44.370]white Americans working on it
[00:35:46.080]end up being kind of a lot of the criminal element
[00:35:48.992]on the Indian Nations land.
[00:35:52.890]But generally is I think it doesn't play a part
[00:35:58.110]in the relationships between all of these people
[00:36:01.230]that I talk about as much.
[00:36:02.340]But for sure,
[00:36:03.180]it's important to make sure that's part of the conversation
[00:36:06.630]with the settlement and how the railroads,
[00:36:11.682]the laws that don't allow Native Nations
[00:36:14.730]to govern themselves and then police themselves
[00:36:17.520]are all really trying to dismantle tribal sovereignty.
[00:36:22.385][Audience Member 2] The other question or comment
[00:36:24.870]or asking for a little more was,
[00:36:28.950]I know the Cherokees are still dealing with
[00:36:32.550]the question of integrating former slaves
[00:36:36.630]into the political world of the Cherokees.
[00:36:41.010]And it's been an ongoing struggle with Black Cherokees
[00:36:47.400]who ancestry were former slaves.
[00:36:52.260]Have any of the other Five Tribes
[00:36:55.290]sort of settled these arrangements
[00:36:57.990]and made good cause with these people?
[00:37:03.120]So the Cherokees are the most settled
[00:37:05.400]and they actually just opened an exhibit
[00:37:08.460]this past Labor Day weekend
[00:37:10.230]that is amazing and looks at the history
[00:37:12.870]of freedmen in the Nation,
[00:37:15.510]the discrimination in the Cherokee Nation that they faced.
[00:37:18.660]And then also really looks at the present
[00:37:21.030]and how there are hundreds,
[00:37:22.976]thousands, probably, of Black Cherokees,
[00:37:25.260]who they're now trying to welcome back into the nation.
[00:37:28.200]They only did this because they lost multiple lawsuits
[00:37:31.400]eventually at the United States level
[00:37:34.020]and they decided to stop fighting it.
[00:37:36.540]But all of the other four nations
[00:37:39.296]are still legally fighting it.
[00:37:41.250]And socially for the most part,
[00:37:43.950]don't acknowledge it in things like their museums
[00:37:46.710]and cultural centers.
[00:37:48.060]And that's actually part of,
[00:37:49.967]what's probably my second book,
[00:37:52.320]looking at how is there a parallel to the United States
[00:37:56.190]and how it took so long for it to really acknowledge,
[00:37:59.280]like slavery in its museums,
[00:38:01.260]or when we talk about the Founding Fathers like Monticello
[00:38:04.950]at those places, how is slavery reflected or not?
[00:38:07.590]That took a long time, a lot of struggle.
[00:38:09.780]And so we have a very similar struggle
[00:38:11.400]going on in these Indian Nations.
[00:38:13.230]It's just on a much smaller scale
[00:38:14.580]and we don't have as much publicity.
[00:38:16.613]But there's the same exact issues
[00:38:18.679]that we saw in the United States
[00:38:20.100]with people not wanting to talk about this history,
[00:38:22.860]saying that Black people
[00:38:23.760]are not really a part of these Indian Nations,
[00:38:25.560]even though they lived there for over a hundred years
[00:38:28.050]and helped build them.
[00:38:30.270]And so, it's an interesting story, I think,
[00:38:35.550]going into the modern day
[00:38:36.750]because it really is Jim Crow segregation
[00:38:40.050]in a sense that still continues.
[00:38:42.900]For example, in the Seminole Nation last year,
[00:38:46.620]when the vaccines first came out,
[00:38:48.120]the Seminoles were giving vaccines
[00:38:49.920]to anyone who would come by
[00:38:53.580]and they refused to recognize
[00:38:55.590]their Black descendants as members of the tribe.
[00:38:59.460]And they wouldn't give them vaccines.
[00:39:02.374]And so it was a literal life or death situation
[00:39:05.700]and they still chose to discriminate
[00:39:07.470]against their former slaves.
[00:39:11.070]So it makes me very, very frustrated,
[00:39:13.320]but I think the Cherokees are providing an amazing example.
[00:39:17.570]And the current Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin
[00:39:21.240]will say again and again, to whoever asks,
[00:39:23.430]I think the Cherokee Nation is stronger for doing this.
[00:39:25.620]For finally making this right.
[00:39:27.570]And hopefully it's just a matter of time
[00:39:30.360]with the other four.
[00:39:32.550]But there is, there's so much within this issue.
[00:39:34.950]I mean, it's about economics really.
[00:39:36.630]It's about politicians
[00:39:38.250]and the people who approve or don't of this choice.
[00:39:57.660]You don't have to ask me questions.
[00:40:02.250][Audience Member 3] Thank you.
[00:40:03.553]I was curious if you could speak about,
[00:40:06.240]if you are willing to,
[00:40:07.500]how it feels to center your scholarship
[00:40:09.900]on your own family history
[00:40:12.180]and maybe what kind of reactions you've gotten
[00:40:14.220]that have been satisfying or challenging
[00:40:16.920]to doing that kind of work.
[00:40:20.100]I think I came along at a very fortunate time in academia
[00:40:25.560]because people I know,
[00:40:27.090]especially Native scholars who did work like this
[00:40:30.000]like 10 years ago,
[00:40:30.991]got a lot more pushback than I have gotten.
[00:40:34.620]This is navel-gazing.
[00:40:35.790]Why is this important just because it's your family story?
[00:40:39.090]Or even, well,
[00:40:39.990]of course you must be biased because this is your family.
[00:40:43.680]I have not really gotten that, at least not to my face.
[00:40:47.640]I think people have begun to see the importance
[00:40:51.420]of what I see as using the knowledge that you have
[00:40:55.260]that others don't have.
[00:40:56.640]And so I had this story and sources available,
[00:41:00.630]yes to others,
[00:41:01.500]but also oral histories from my family members
[00:41:04.530]that they didn't initially see as important,
[00:41:07.410]but that created a richer picture of what was going on
[00:41:11.162]and the importance of land.
[00:41:13.080]Because I didn't see it, initially.
[00:41:16.530]I saw this more as a story of racial identity at first.
[00:41:19.800]And it took talking to people like my great aunt
[00:41:23.010]who was like 103 when I interviewed her
[00:41:25.380]to see that my family cared most about keeping that land
[00:41:29.310]in Ardmore and doing whatever it took to keep that.
[00:41:32.160]And not necessarily whether they were recognized
[00:41:34.230]by the Nation at the time,
[00:41:36.000]or whether they could call themselves mixed race people.
[00:41:38.984]They didn't care.
[00:41:40.080]They didn't even care really about educating
[00:41:42.030]some of my great aunts and uncles.
[00:41:45.888]They cared about making sure that they could do that farm
[00:41:48.360]and that they could pull them out of school
[00:41:49.530]to work that farm because that land was most important.
[00:41:53.520]And so I am very thankful
[00:41:56.730]that I've gotten the reception that I've gotten.
[00:42:00.690]And I talk about the struggle within the book, I think,
[00:42:04.740]in pulling out these stories
[00:42:06.180]and what it means to think about Blackness
[00:42:09.000]and Native identity in this way.
[00:42:11.100]And so I hope that that has given anyone
[00:42:12.941]who did have misgivings the ability to say, okay,
[00:42:17.430]obviously she's thought about this.
[00:42:18.870]She's taken this seriously.
[00:42:21.150]And she wrote the book I think others would write
[00:42:23.940]when looking at this same body of sources.
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