Oklahoma Indian Tribes

American Indians living in Oklahoma have a complicated, interesting and unique history.

Adaptation and adjustment, always an important part of Native cultures, became an integral part of Oklahoma Indian lives, especially after removal to Indian Territory, as tribal communities rebuilt their governments and medicine people reestablished ceremonial ways.

Mound Builders 500 to 1300 A.D.

The story of Oklahoma Indians begins with the Spiro Mound builders, 500 to 1300 A.D. Regulators of early trade, the Spiro Mound Builders flourished as an extension of the Mississippian mound builders east of the great Mississippi River.

In the following generation early people settled along rivers: indigenous Caddoans (Caddo, Wichita, and Pawnee), Siouans (Quapaw and Osage), and Athapascans (Plains Apache).

The early Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado recorded observations of Indian activities during the sixteenth century. Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Apache raided into the region and claimed hunting territories. The Cheyenne also used the region.

Indian Removal

For Native peoples, the early decades of the nineteenth century became the period of “Indian Removal.” Over a period of years in the 1830s the U.S. government removed eastern Indian tribes to Indian Territory.

These people included the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw. Other southeastern tribes included the Alabama.

Later, around the time of the Civil War and afterward, removed tribes from the Northeast would join them: the Delaware, Sac and Fox, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Peoria, Ottawa, Wyandotte, Seneca, and Iowa.

Prairie tribes included the Kaw, Ponca, Otoe, and Missouri. The Indian Wars of the 1870s produced “reservations” in the Oklahoma region for Plains tribes such as the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and others. 

Other western tribes eventually represented here included the Nez Perce and Modoc.

In the end, the U.S. government removed a total of sixty-seven different tribes to Oklahoma. All of these peoples and their communities developed cultures whose traditions have survived today in spite of several setbacks due to contact with non-Indians.

Many died along the trail on the forced marches to Oklahoma. The people created a new terminology to describe the experience: the Trail of Tears, or the Trail of Courage (also called Trail of Death) in the case of the Potawatomi.

During the 1840s and 1850s missionaries, especially the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, worked among the tribes to help the people, and in the process they converted many Indians to Christianity.

Thereafter, many Indians practiced both Christianity and traditional beliefs and continued to do so even into the twenty-first century. Many tribal leaders viewed education as an important social mechanism, and schools were built all over the Indian nations during the pre Civil War years.

The Civil War Era

In the 1860s the United States and also the territories became embroiled in the struggle between North and South. Forced to fight for the Confederacy, the tribes of Indian Territory suffered much devastation and death in their homeland, and their lives were uprooted again.

The largest conflict of the American Civil War in Oklahoma was the Battle of Honey Springs on July 17, 1863. Involving nine thousand soldiers, it represented a turning of the war in favor of the North. Gen. Stand Watie, a Cherokee, was the last Confederate general to surrender.

A Union victory, and the tribes’ allegiance to the Confederacy, compelled retaliation by the United States. Forced to sign the Reconstruction Treaties of 1866, the Five Civilized Tribes found their lands reduced in order for the U.S. to move more western tribes into Indian Territory.

Subsequently, railroads were allowed across Indian lands. Despite these hardships, the tribes rebuilt their lives and rekindled community fires again during the era that mainstream historians call Reconstruction.

Mixed-blood Indians and all of those who were progressive toward the ways of the white man believed that seminaries, missions, and schools were important and continued building them.

The Jerome Commission and Dawes Rolls

In the late nineteenth century Oklahoma Indians of all tribes and nations experienced a new federal Indian policy, much of which was aimed at destroying de facto tribal sovereignty by ending the traditional Indian system of tribal, rather than individual, land ownership.

The much-debated Dawes Severalty Act (General Allotment Act) of 1887 promised individual land ownership and U.S. citizenship to American Indians.

Although the Oklahoma tribes of the eastern half of the Indian Territory at first were exempt from the Dawes Act, successive amendments to the law began the process of allotment of tribal lands to individual Indians. The Jerome Commission and Dawes Commission carried out the surveying and distributing of allotments to the tribes.

The recipients were registered in what came to be called the Dawes Rolls of tribal memberships. Over all, allotment of tribal land stripped Oklahoma Indian nations of about twenty-seven million acres.

Then came an in-migration of fifty thousand non-Indian settlers with the first land opening, the Land Run of April 22, 1889, into the Unassigned Lands of central Oklahoma.

Within the next two decades additional land lotteries brought hundreds of thousands more outsiders into the territories, but primarily into the western half of present Oklahoma.

Cattlemen and mining interests in southeastern Indian Territory increased pressure for white ways among the tribes and caused political strife within tribes as Indian Territory became increasingly open to white opportunists.

The Curtis Act of 1898

Designed to permanently dissolve all formal tribal governments, the Curtis Act of 1898 cancelled reservation status and nullified tribal schools and judicial systems.

Political pressure for statehood compelled Indian tribes to push for a state of their own, called the State of Sequoyah, but they had little lobbying power in Washington.

Despite these setbacks, and despite the federal demand for the end of tribal sovereignty, informal government still ran most tribes’ affairs. The Indian nations did not disappear.

They rebuilt again following Oklahoma statehood in 1907, when federal paternalism suppressed their sovereignty. An estimated ten thousand American Indians who served in World War I for the United States, many of them from Oklahoma.

Although many Oklahoma Indians became U.S. citizens upon receiving land allotments, they ultimately lost their lands by fraud and deception from white opportunists.

During the Great Depression that began in 1929 and held on into the 1930s, Indian communities suffered as did all Americans. Many Oklahoma Indians moved westward during the Dust Bowl years. An increasing Native population in California was part of the now-famous Dust Bowl migration.

Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934

Like the Dawes Act, the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 exempted American Indians of Oklahoma. Two years later the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act extended IRA provisions, allowing Oklahoma Indians to reestablish tribal entities and Indian communities into Native governments patterned after the U.S. government.

Other provisions of this Indian New Deal legislation helped Oklahoma Indian communities, as well as communities throughout Indian Country, to pull through the Great Depression.

The sudden entrance of the United States into World War II in 1941 encouraged many Oklahoma Indian young men to join the armed services. Oklahoma Indians, many of whom were already members of National Guard units, filled a noticeable portion of the ranks of the U.S. Army’s famed Forty-fifth Division. Serving courageously, Oklahoma Indians earned many medals.

Ernest Childers, a Muscogee Creek, and Jack Montgomery, a Cherokee, won Congressional Medals of Honor. They were the only Native Americans to win the nation’s highest military honor in World War II.

Following the war, Congress recognized the United Keetoowah Band of Indians under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, but further recognition of tribes in general halted in the following decade.

Termination, a new federal Indian policy of the 1950s and 1960s, once again threatened to end all tribal self-government, but Oklahoma tribes were able to avoid the final ending of trust obligations by the United States.

Tribal governments remained under the firm control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior.

Relocation Program of 1952

The Relocation Program of 1952, however, affected many individual Oklahoma Indians by sending them to major cities for employment and housing.

This program continued until the early 1970s and in many instances had negative consequences for Native family life.

The cycle of change continued through the twentieth century. In 1975 the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act supported and reinforced tribal governments.

As a result of the IRA legislation and Indian self-determination policy, American Indians in Oklahoma formed thirty-nine tribal governments that have been federally recognized.

These nations exercise powers of self-government, including business councils, and many have tribal courts with law enforcement. These tribal governments and communities have formed a positive relationship with the state of Oklahoma, and their progress in the last decades of the twentieth century truly reflect Oklahoma’s deep heritage as the “Land of the Red Man.”

Self-determination was a modest boon to the Oklahoma Indian community’s economy. By the end of the twentieth century twenty-three bingo and gaming operations were owned by the tribes in Oklahoma.

Eight tribes, the Choctaw Nation, Citizen Band of Potawatomi Nation, Comanche Indian Tribe, Iowa Tribe, Miami Tribe, Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, Otoe-Missouri Tribe, and Tonkawa Tribe of Indians had successfully negotiated gaming compacts with the State of Oklahoma.

In addition to gaming, the Oklahoma tribes invested in various businesses and industries, and their success produced tribal programs of college scholarships, elder care, health care services, and other social services.

Old fires of communal life were renewed as the Oklahoma tribes developed new economic and health programs to assist their peoples.
Cultural revitalization among Oklahoma’s Indian communities has followed the national pattern from the 1920s.

The pan-Indian movements of the early and mid-twentieth century, as well as cultural activities generated by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1935 and the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, motivated many tribes to reinstate traditional sacred rites and ceremonies and also to present public events expressing Native community identity.

For example, many tribes now host an annual heritage day, festival, or homecoming. Powwows and dances, both private and public, became regular community activities in the late twentieth century.

Revival of arts and crafts also became important as forces to unify Native communities and also to generate much-needed income.

Tribal historic preservation officers monitor threats to sites important in the community’s history. Many tribes have opened museums at tribal headquarters complexes.

Most importantly, because the survival of language is the key to the survival of culture, many Oklahoma tribes have instituted preservation policies and activities, such as language classes and dictionary compilation projects.

The Oklahoma Indian experience is a collective saga of many encounters with external forces that caused permanent changes to traditional communities.

All of the recurring themes of Indian removal, renewed tribalism, moving fires, destruction, rebirth, Native ethos, Native sovereignty, identity, and inherent communal beliefs comprise a collective epic.

(Federal list last updated 3/07

Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians
Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town
Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
Caddo Nation of Oklahoma
Cherokee Nation
Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma
Chickasaw Nation
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Comanche Nation
Delaware Nation
Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma
Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Kaw Nation
Kialegee Tribal Town
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma
Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma
Miami Tribe of Oklahoma
Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma
Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Osage Tribe
Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma
Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians
Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma
Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
Quapaw Tribe of Indians
Sac & Fox Nation
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma
Shawnee Tribe
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town
Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma
Wichita and Affiliated Tribes (Wichita, Keechi, Waco and Tawakonie)
Wyandotte Nation

(Not recognized by the Federal Government)



Arapaho Tribe of Oklahoma. Currently recognized only as part of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.

Arebeka Tribal Town

Cataba Tribal Association

Delaware Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma, Letter of Intent to Petition 1/6/1993; determined ineligible to petition, 2/24/1994.

Hillabee Tribal Town. Currently recognized only as part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Kichai Tribe. Currently recognized only as part of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

Loyal Shawnee Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 10/14/1998; Legislative recognition 12/27/2000.

Natchez Nation of Oklahoma

New Tulsa Tribal Town. Currently recognized only as part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Northern Chicamunga Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri, Letter of Intent to Petition 9/5/1991

Tallahassee Tribal Town

Thlathlogvlga Tribal Town

Traditional Southern Cheyenne Nation. Currently recognized only as part of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.

Tvkapvtchee Tribal Town. Currently recognized only as part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

United Band of the Western Cherokee Nation. Letter of Intent to Petition 3/14/2003.

Weogufkee Tribal Town. Currently recognized only as part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Yuchi Tribal Organization. Letter of Intent to Petition 10/05/1990; Declined to acknowledge 3/21/2000, 64 FR 71814.

Yuchi (Euchee) Tribe of Oklahoma located in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. It is seeking federal recognition and separation from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, which subsumed the much smaller numbers of Yuchi during Removal.


Before the white man entered the region that is now the state of Oklahoma, several tribes of Indians lived in or ranged over the land. Plains Indians including the Kiowa, Apache, Ute, and Comanche occupied the western part of the region.

They were nomadic hunters who followed the huge herds of buffalo that grazed on the grasslands. Farther to the east, the more sedentary Wichita Indians lived in houses thatched with grass and cultivated crops such as corn, beans, pumpkins, and melons.

The Wichita are descendants of a prehistoric culture known as the Earth House People. Of the original tribes which ranged throughout Oklahoma when Europeans first began to explore the area, only the Ute remain.

A large portion of Oklahoma’s Native American population – the third largest in the nation – is made up of descendants of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes.

These five tribes were forcibly moved to Oklahoma by the United States government between 1820 and 1842. Hundreds of people died on the forced marches that became known as The Trail of Tears.


500-1300 AD – Spiro Indians, linked to the Aztecs, thrived and left burial mounds filled with exquisite artwork and clues to their way of life. A museum displaying their artifacts is near Spiro.

1012 -Viking explorers visited eastern Oklahoma and left their mark near the town of Heavener.

Genealogy:Sources of records on US Indian tribes Oklahoma American Indian Boarding Schools Oklahoma Tribal Colleges


Article Index:

Oklahoma Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry delivered 8,000 petition signatures

A group of Native American parents and supporters held a rally at the state Capitol and delivered a petition to the governor’s office over the state’s relationship with tribes.

Oklahoma Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry delivered 8,000 petition signatures to Gov. Mary Fallin’s office on Monday. The petition calls for repairing the relationship between the state government and its indigenous people, which the group says has been strained.

According to a spokeswoman, the group requested a meeting with the governor, but was told it would be a few months before she was available.

A spokesman for the governor says the tribal governments are important partners to state government and that Fallin “values the good relationships her administration has cultivated with them.”

Places to visit native american culture exhibits in Oklahoma USA

Here is a list of places to visit in Oklahoma USA (Indian Territory) to learn about native american culture.

The A.D. Buck Museum of Natural History & Science
1220 E. Grand
Tonkawa, OK 74653
mailing address:P.O. BOX 310, Tonkawa, OK 74653
tel (405) 628-6200
fax (405) 628-6209

Ataloa Lodge Museum, Bacone College
Bacone College, Muskogee (74403)
Phone # 918-781-7283

Features Indian arts and crafts. School is famous for its Indian Art School.
Graduates include Willard Stone, Woody Crumbo, Acee Blue Eagle, Terry Saul and
Solomon McComb

The Anadarko Philomathic Museum
311 E. Main St.
Anadarko, OK 73005
tel (405) 247-3240