Land that had been owned by all members of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory was wacked apart with the slivers given to single members to make each one a land owner, a property owner, a privileged citizen, with a pathway to prosperity.
President Theodore Roosevelt said at the time, "The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual."
Many Cherokees lived near one another, they got homestead acreage, but the rest of their allotment acres was given in tracks of 10 acres scattered throughout what ended up being 14 counties in the new state of Oklahoma.
It is hard to love a piece of land you never saw, never walked never found. In 1907 there were few roads and no fences around these 10 acre tracts of land, no way to find it again if you found it the first time. There were no trees in much of the tall grass prairie to use as landmarks.
Allotment was the end of the trail for communal doings for land held in common where use was determined among neighbors, family and friends.
Allotment is used nostalgically by some, used as the boundaries of a family's homestead. I got to go to my grandmother's allotment a few times when I was growing up. The last time was with my dad and son. Inside the kitchen we saw a sink with a window over it and out through the window was a pulley system that took an empty bucket from the kitchen down to the spring house where it could be filled and brought back up to the kitchen sink without having to leave the kitchen, rain or shine, even in winter, fresh water without going outside to the well. We went down to what the relatives called the spring house. There on the hottest days, when you walked inside it was obviously built to serve the home owners, with cold flowing spring water to keep butter, milk and eggs COLD until needed by the family.
The other thing I saw in the home where my Grandmother grew up, was upstairs. There were several closed doors. All the same, all with white porcelain door handles I had never seen before. But in the new addition of my house, before seeing the upstairs of my grandmother's homeplace I had constructed that upstairs hallway in my own house, same number of doors, all with the white porcelain door handles. I was driven to make those doors, just like all my other doors, all handmade except the one Annabell Mitchell gave me to use.
Allotment is also the name of the short film by Mark Lazarz and JJ Lind. After seeing a clip I was struck by how attached place can be to our identity. JJ got to go into his grandmother's allotment home much more often than I was able to, but the structures were much the same. Old wood ages and undisturbed places let memories sleep and peak out at you when you dare to step inside.
Allotment changed tribal ways so much we can barely find the words. Places in the lives of our ancestors helped make us who we are, helped us find ways to be brave and be in balance with nature.
Allotment is the name of the film JJ Lind will show at the 20th Tar Creek Conference September 26. You will want to see it in Miami with us. Allotment is a verb, a noun, a governmental process and has for me been a dirty word, but for us, it is a movie that we will share together understanding more about our emotional geography.
That's a term my son's OCU English professor Brenda Pfaff at OCU used as opposed to our physical geography. The Cherokees became landless twice over a short span of history. Trauma occurred and traveled with them on the removal to Indian Territory and then once settled in, allotment changed the structure and how land was owned and how quickly in their generational memory it could be lost.
The emotional side of geography was felt this week in Miami, Oklahoma. A sense of place and loss of it was felt with a break-in and arson of Anders Shoe Store. A range of emotions have been experienced and questions how to heal the trauma of loss for the owner and the workers and the community. This shows the other side of trauma and that is the power of surviving through the strength of resilience.
Just a ways away from the burnt building is Tar Creek and its resilience was threatened with the black water spill 2 weeks ago. As a health educator said only yesterday, "How much more could Tar Creek take?" Nick Shepherd is a University of Oklahoma graduate student from Miami, OK with a thesis on the fish in the creek and is counting resilience one fish at a time and J-M Farms has made efforts to prevent another release.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim