Meeting at Okmulgee, Creek Nation, in 1870, representatives of the Indian Territory nations created the Okmulgee Constitution in response to federal pressure. Post-Civil War federal Indian policy was aimed toward the creation of a unified Indian territorial government. The Five Civilized Tribes agreed in principle to this goal in their 1866 Reconstruction Treaties. International councils held from 1867 to 1869 accomplished little, because the Indian nations feared losing their sovereignty as well as land to subsequent railroad construction.
Growing impatience in the U.S. Congress in 1870 forced the Indian nations to the task. In September of that year Central Superintendent Enoch Hoag, representing the Office of Indian Affairs, as well as Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Ottawa, Eastern and Absentee Shawnee, Quapaw, Seneca, Wyandotte, Confederated Peoria, Sac and Fox, Wea, and Osage delegates, convened at the Creek capitol. The Choctaws, suspicious of federal intentions, did not attend. The forty delegates began drafting a constitution but also sent a memorial to Pres. Ulysses S. Grant, asking him to prevent Congress from creating a competing territorial government and to respect their treaties. The convention then adjourned to gather information and to invite the Plains tribes to participate.
When the delegates, including the Choctaws, reconvened in December 1870, Cherokee editor William Potter Ross presented the carefully drafted Okmulgee Constitution. Modeled on the state constitutions, it included a bill of rights and created a federal union, with an elected governor, a bicameral legislature, and a court system. Ratification required approval by two-thirds of Indian Territory voters. While some tribes feared the loss of their sovereignty, the Creeks and some of the smaller tribes quickly ratified the constitution. Federal officials tinkered with it to increase federal control of the proposed government. Neither the 1870 constitution nor a revision in 1875 was ratified.
However, the Okmulgee Constitution was a landmark in Oklahoma's political history. The Indian delegates learned much from the process, and the published journals of the conventions favorably impressed "friends of the Indian." The federal government abandoned the idea of Indian statehood in 1878, saying the annual conventions only strengthened Indian nationalism and unity in opposing its territorial plans. Some Indian nations, including the Plains tribes in 1871, continued the international councils until 1907 statehood and used their experience during the 1905 Sequoyah Constitutional Convention. Outgrowths of the constitutional conventions included the founding of the Indian Journal newspaper and the Indian International Fair.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Arrell M. Gibson, Oklahoma: A History of Five Centuries (2nd ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981). "Journal of the General Council of the Indian Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 3 (March 1925). Ohland Morton, "Reconstruction in the Creek Nation," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (June 1931). "Okmulgee Constitution," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 3 (September 1925). Mary Jane Warde, George Washington Grayson and the Creek Nation, 1843-1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999).
Mary Jane Warde
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