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Report Relating to the Enrollment of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes
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Report of Joseph W. Howell, of March 3, 1909, Relating to the Enrollment of Citizens And Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Department Of The Interior
Washington, D. C.
March 3. 1909.
The Honorable Secretary Of The Interior.
Sir: In compliance with your request I have prepared and now submit a report concerning the subject of the enrollment of the citizens and freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes. In so doing I have given special attention to the claims of various persons who allege that they are entitled to share in the lands and money of said tribes. Recent developments have also made necessary the consideration of the conditions, which have arisen since the closing of the enrollment work on March 4, 1907.
The subject of enrollment, including the claims of these persons, has excited renewed interest and attention by reason of numerous suits which have been instituted in the courts, ns well as by the agitation in Congress and elsewhere concerning the alleged rights of said persons.
In order to present the subject clearly it is my purpose:
(1) to describe the conditions which obtained in the Five Civilized Tribes prior to and at the time the Government of the United States entered upon the work of preparing rolls of said citizens and freedmen:
(2) to outline briefly the various acts of Congress and the agreements with the several tribes under which the work was prosecuted;
(3) to explain in what respects said laws failed to accomplish the purpose for which they were intended, owing to defects in the taws themselves and. in a measure, to the methods of administration which were adopted:
(4) to describe the conditions which arose during the course of the enrollment work and which obtained at its close: and
(5) to recommend such action as, in my opinion, should be taken in view of the whole situation.
The statements which follow are based upon information received by me in various ways and at different times in the discharge of my duties relating to Indian matters, and. in order that my means of acquiring information in connection therewith may be understood, I desire to say that my knowledge concerning the work of the making of the rolls of said tribes was obtained, primarily, in the preparation of decisions in citizenship cases in the office of the Secretary of the Interior, and. later, in the preparation of opinions in the office of the Assistant Attorney General for the Department of the Interior. I have been employed in said offices since early in May, 1902 and have since then been in close and continuous contact with all questions relating to citizenship in the Five Civilized Tribes. During the last year I also made an extensive field investigation of the subject and in so doing I made careful examination of the citizenship records, both of the United States and the tribal governments, now in the custody of the Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes, following which I traveled extensively throughout the eastern portion of Oklahoma and interviewed and examined many of the claimants referred to above as well as numerous officials of the United States, and, wherever possible, many of the prominent members of the tribes in question, taking particular pains to meet men who would, presumably, be widely acquainted with the Indian people, such as superintendents of public institutions, teachers, ministers of the gospel, Indian interpreters, and Indian policemen.
Preliminary to taking up the subdivisions enumerated above some explanation is necessary as to the character of the work of enrollment. It is probable that but few people have, anything like a perfect idea of the importance and magnitude of the work of enrolling the citizens and freedmen of said tribes. The importance of this work was due, primarily, to the fact that nothing could be done toward the dissolution of the tribes and the breaking up of the tribal system until the completion of the rolls, for there could be no distribution of the lands and moneys of said tribes until the persons entitled to share therein could be definitely ascertained. The magnitude of the work is evident from the fact that there were more than 100,000 persons whose rights were to be determined, and that upon such determination depended the division of about 20,000,000 acres of land and the distribution of funds which will embrace millions, perhaps billions, of dollars.
The determination of the identity of the beneficiaries and the distribution of this property has been likened unto proceedings incident to the administration of a vast estate, including the ascertainment of the heirs and the distribution of the property of the deceased. But unlike the administration of an ordinary estate, the identification of the Indian beneficiaries made it necessary to examine, not the laws of one jurisdiction alone, but instead, the laws of five separate nations. More than this, the colossal task necessitated a careful study not only of the statutes of those nations, but also their constitutions, and in addition thereto, and above all, the several treaties which each tribe has entered into with the United States, together with the various statutes which our own Government has, independently of any action upon the part of the tribal governments, enacted concerning the matter.
From the foregoing it will be readily appreciated that in the enrollment problem there were presented, in a confusing and complicated degree, many questions covering the whole field of law- international, public, and private-upon which were dependent political as well as property rights, all deserving time, patience, and legal discrimination of a high order for their solution.
I have called attention to these features of the subject to emphasize the opinion that the work was of such a nature as to render it absolutely impossible to prescribe an arbitrary time for its completion. Having once undertaken it, it was incumbent upon the Government to discharge the duty in an orderly manner and only after full consideration of the matter. Otherwise there could not fail to result a train of errors which would necessarily cry out for correction for many years to come. A memorandum of points discussed herein is inclosed as Exhibit A.
This brings me to the first of the divisions of the subject.
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