Seminole Nation changes tribal enrollment

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Tribal enrollment requirements for the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma are changing.

In a July 2000 referendum election, tribal members voted to require a one-eighth quantum of Seminole blood as a part of enrollment requirements. Former open enrollment requirements did not specify blood quantum as a part of the process.

The Seminole Nation does not allow dual enrollment for its members. Those who apply for Seminole enrollment cannot be enrolled members of another tribe and officials say the Enrollment Office contacts other tribes if one is specified on the enrollment application.

The Seminole settled in what is now Oklahoma, following their removal from Florida. Runaway slaves who had escaped and lived with the Seminole also relocated with the tribe and became known as the Freedmen. Seminole membership rolls include descendants of these Freedmen. Enrollment Officer Jane McKane said that although the Freedmen are enrolled members, they are not given the same services as tribal members with Seminole blood. Currently the Freedmen have the right to vote in tribal elections.

Part of the reasoning behind the changes in enrollment McKane said, was because of the low blood quantum in those applying for tribal membership. “Well, the blood quantum was getting so low that the people who were enrolling weren’t even interested in the tribe. They (the election committee) felt like we were really getting people with no Indian blood. That may be happening from now on I think, because of marriages to non-Indians.”

There are 13,000 Seminoles enrolled with the tribe and 1,927 Freedmen who are enrolled.

“When the Seminoles were forced out of Florida, they were slaves. They were called runaways and they came with the Seminoles to Indian Territory. When they came here, of course they had slave owners, but they were freed. That is why they are called Freedmen. These descendants are now members of the tribe,” McKane said.

Because of the election, Freedmen may be in jeopardy of losing their tribal enrollment. “If the BIA rules on it (Amendment #8 on the referendum election), then that will eliminate the Freedmen because they have to have Indian blood,” McKane explained.

The Freedmen with the Seminole were the only former slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes to be recognized as tribal members. “All five tribes had Freedmen, but they had it in their constitutions and ordinance that they would not accept them. That has been their laws since they began their enrollment. I don’t know why we didn’t at the time, but we did. We went ahead and enrolled them. We have been enrolling them since 1975. That was when we began our enrollment. We were the first of the five tribes to begin enrollment.”

Before that time, those who came and lived within lands under tribal jurisdiction were those listed on the Dawes Commission roll. The Seminole had not been enrolling members before that time.

What about the Freedmen? “They are still members yet,” McKane said. “Whatever the government says, we will do. We haven’t heard anything from them yet.” McKane believes that once the BIA approves amendments from the recent election, the Freedmen will have tribal membership revoked. “There will be no Freedmen members at all in the tribe.”

Seminoles and Freedmen alike are waiting for the BIA to approve or veto election results. And there are tensions among those involved as they wait to see what the face of the Seminole Nation will be.