November 11, 2020
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by American journalist David Grann was released on April 18, 2017 by Doubleday. The book investigates a series of murders of wealthy Osage people in Osage County, Oklahoma in the early 1920’s. These occurred after big oil deposits were discovered beneath their land. While the Osage Native Americans were awarded rights, a long process of custodianship was imposed on the distribution of the profits and very few if any of the Osage saw any money. The elements hostile to the Osage decided they would simplify their profit mongering by eliminating the “middleman” (Osage). The official count of murdered full-blood Osage reached at least 20, but Grann suspects hundreds more may have been killed because of their ties to the oil. The newly formed FBI’s investigation of the murders resulted in the trial and conviction of cattleman William Hale as the mastermind behind the plot.
Like all marginalized BIPOC, Native American civil rights were not assured in the United States. Native Americans are citizens of their respective Native nations as well as the United States, and those nations are characterized under the Law of the United States as “domestic dependent nations.” This status creates tension today but was far more extreme before Native people were uniformly granted U.S. citizenship in 1924. It is hard to summarize the issues of the many tribes and Native peoples, but there are some issues they are actively pursuing. These include the protection of rights to voting, resistance to cultural assimilation, destruction of surrounding environments and water sources near Reservations, and depressed economies. We can now add the pandemic to the crisis.
The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, also called the Indian Bill of Rights, guaranteed many civil rights Indigenous peoples had been fighting for. Among these rights were freedom of speech, protection from invasion of homes, right to speedy trial and to have an attorney, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, the right to a jury trial, and equal protection under the law. This basically included Native peoples in the Bill of Rights ratified December 15, 1791. It only took 177 years to grant protection under the law to the nearly 2.5% of Indigenous people living in America. Other civil rights such as sovereignty, hunting and fishing, and voting are still issues facing Native people today.
Thoughts: Indian Territory (lands owned Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River) and Oklahoma Territory (lands set aside to relocate Plains Indians and other Midwestern tribes), were formally constituted by Congress on May 2, 1890 in the Oklahoma Organic Act. The next 16 years saw a variety of Black towns and white settlers move into the area and new laws resulted in the state of Oklahoma on November 16, 1907. The conflict of cultures and broken promises were complicated by discovery of vast oil fields lying beneath the prairie. Rather than doing the work of coexistence, some chose the course of greed. This resulted in the Tulsa Race Riot and the Osage Murders. It is time to learn from our past rather than choosing to repeat it. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.