Series #5, #6, and #7 – Choctaw History Through the Eyes of an Artist

This week we take a look at Karen Clarkson’s art on the topics of  Indian Adoption, Census Records, and the Dawes Act, all topics that greatly affected our ancestors.

Well-known Choctaw artist and award recipient, Karen Clarkson has put together a collection of compelling and provocative original art that reflects the heart-rending issues besetting the Choctaw throughout their long history. The collection is titled “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.”

Her collection will be featured in a one-artist show opening Tuesday, January 9, 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona at the Coconino Center for the Arts.   The show will continue through February 10, during regular hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an opening reception on Saturday, January 13.

>>See my prior blog – Choctaw History Through The Eyes Of An Artist –  for the first two paintings of the collection.

>>Also my blog –  Series #3 & #4 – from A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood – for the artwork concerning Christianity and Education.


1884 – present

Selecting a Native wife forced difficult choices, for in so doing, a man cut many bonds with White society. His children could expect little better. The dominant white society looked with intense disapproval on mixed blood children. (Source: 1885 and After: Native Society in Transition, FL Barron, James Burgess Waldron).

During this social climate, my father was born of a Choctaw mother and a White father. In the 1930’s when his father suddenly died, the white side of the family successfully gained custody of him. His mother, being Native, was abandoned to a tragic life living hand to mouth. She died before I had even learned of her existence. My father refused to speak of her.

The adoption of Indian children intersected with the state’s assertions of power to obliterate Indian identities and extinguish Indian claims to land. In the late twentieth century, when fostering and adoption became common and was coupled with efforts to involuntarily sterilize Native American women, the federal government still seemed bent on destroying Indian identities and land claims. – “On the Borders of Love and Power: Families and Kinship in the intercultural American Southwest”, David Wallace Adams, et. al. 2012, Regents of the California University.

Illustration: An image of my grandparents who adopted into their family my mixed blood father. His mother, being Native, was not. Without the teachings of his mother and/or her people, my father lost contact with this ancestral identity.

5-coconino Adoption 2377x1584




The earliest notation of my own ancestors first appeared in the 1885 Census of the Indian Territories. The Census Rolls were precursors to the Dawes Rolls by nearly thirty years. In them we see families and other various information; however percentage of blood was not requested or recorded in these early records. These rolls were usually submitted each year by agent or superintendents in charge of Indian reservations, as required by an act of Congress on 4 July 1884 (23 U.S. Stat. 98).

A few years later the Dawes Act of 1887 required all people registered as tribal members must include their percentage of Indian blood. As a result of this policy, “few, if any, Native Americans, regardless of upbringing in rural, reservation, or urban setting, ignore their own and other Indians’ blood quantum in everyday life. Those whose physical appearances render their Indian identities suspect are subject to suspicious scrutiny until precise cultural explanations, especially blood quantum, are offered or disclosed”. (Source: Racially Mixed People in America, Maria P.P. Root, 1992).

“In her well-researched work of historical literature “Mean Spirit” (1990), Linda Hogan depicts the dynamics of the racist categorizing of “mixed” and “full bloods” during the Removal and Allotment years when Indians from the southeast United States were moved to Oklahoma and other western “territories.” Government agents would declare “incompetent” certain “full bloods”, thereby denying them allotment payments for land taken from them. At the same time, agents declared other Indians “disqualified” for payments due to their being “mixed blood.” In these scenarios, non-Indians got both cash and land by duplicitous acts, which sometimes went as far as the murder of Indian allottees.”  – M. Annette Jaimes, “Race – American-Indian Identity and Survival”.

Illustration: 1885 Census record of the Choctaw Nation in Tobucksy County. The Dickson Nail family is listed as having six members, one of which is Robert Nail, age 7, my great-grand father [also spelled Nale in other documents]. The painting is of a Choctaw mother and child, symbolizing the family and its matrilineal influence. 6-coconino early census rolls 4310x3638




The Curtis Act of 1898 amended the Dawes Act of 1887 to extend its provisions to the Five Civilized Tribes; it required abolition of their governments, allotment of communal lands to people registered as tribal members, and sale of land declared surplus, as well as dissolving tribal courts. This painting is of my father who is the son of Maggie Nale who is noted on the roll.

It was during the “allotment period” that official tribal enrollment took form in support of the existing ideology of using blood quantum as a determinant of tribal affiliation. US courts set a precedent in 1905 in the case of Waldron v. United States that upheld tribal authority to determine enrollment policies. Most federally recognized tribes (as implicitly prescribed under the Federal Acknowledgment Act of 1978) require a certain level of blood quantum, ranging from “full” Indian blood to 1/32 Indian blood. The government, through its implicit genetic “reading” of federal recognition, does not force tribes to implement blood quantum criteria; however, the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides a step-by-step process for guiding tribal enrollment, even providing charts on how tribes should determine blood quantum. (Source: American Indian Identity and Blood Quantum in the 21st Century: A Critical Review, Ryan W. Schmidt, 2011).

THE DAWES ACT had a negative effect on American Indians, as it ended their communal holding of property by which they had ensured that everyone had a home and a place in the tribe. The act “was the culmination of American attempts to destroy tribes and their governments and to open Indian lands to settlement by non-Indians and to development by railroads. Land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres in 1943. – Kidwell, Clara Sue, “Allotment”; Terry L. Anderson, “Property Rights Among Native Americans”;Gunn, Steven J., “Major Acts of Congress: Indian General Allotment Act (Dawes Act 1887).”

7-coconino Dawes Act 2550x3574Illustration: This painting is of my father who is the son of Maggie Nale, grandson of Robert and Luan Nale. [The background is Robert and Luan’s Enrollment Card.]










Photo-Karen ClarksonKaren Clarkson lives in Prescott, Arizona, with her husband Bill and their three little dogs. Although many of her works are of Native Americans, Clarkson also creates landscapes and still life, as well as portraits in other mediums.  Among a variety of other awards and juried competitions, Clarkson won Best in Show at the Choctaw Indian Arts Show in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Her current work can be seen at the Lyn A. Fox Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and on her personal website.







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