Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of stories profiling Native American tribes of Oklahoma.
Since initially being removed from the Great Lakes area in 1831, the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma has had a long journey, separated from the main tribe by hundreds of miles.
The Ottawa Tribe first settled around the Great Lakes, which includes the Detroit area, as well as Ohio and parts of Canada. The tribe is one of the four recognized tribes of the Odawas, which means “traders,” as they were known for buying and selling with other tribes.
In 1831, after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, most of the Odawas were exempt from being removed due to being west of the Mississippi River. But the members who were east of the Mississippi River were forcibly moved to Kansas.
In the first three years after being moved to Kansas, they lost nearly half their members due to the drastic change from the cool, damp north to the dry, hot plains.
“Another big impact on the tribe was all the wars prior to the removal,” said Rhonda Hayworth, Ottawa historian/librarian/archivist. “During the second removal, there were 35 adults and 150-some children who were removed, so there were a lot of orphan children in that removal.”
After living in Kansas for a time, the Ottawa used money from their allotment in Kansas to buy the land they are currently on in Oklahoma. Tribal headquarters is in Miami.
The Ottawa people believed if they used their own money to buy land, the U.S. government would not be able to remove them again. Nevertheless, the government came and allotted some of the land they had purchased and gave it to other tribes.
The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma enrollment is about 3,000, while the Ottawa Tribe as a whole is about 300,000 strong.
The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma gained federal recognition in 1936, which allowed members to receive numerous benefits, including education. They lost recognition in 1956, but were able to regain it in 1979 under a bill signed by President Jimmy Carter.
Some of the Ottawa tribes in the north didn’t know about the Oklahoma Ottawas until a decade or so ago, Hayworth said. Since then, they’ve been in contact with one another and have kept other tribes informed about each other.
Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.