This week we focus on final four paintings in Karen Clarkson’s new collection. The artwork spotlights Land Allotment, Timber Resources, Military Service, and Tribal Sovereignty.
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, which Karen will attend.
>>>See my prior blogs on Karen Clarkson’s art series, “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.”
- Choctaw History Through The Eyes Of An Artist – for the first two paintings of the collection, dealing with Forced Removal and a Beautiful Land.
- Series #3 & #4 – from A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood – for the artwork concerning Christianity and Education.
- Series #5, #6 and #7 – Choctaw History Through The Eyes Of An Artist – for her artwork focusing on Indian Adoption, Census Records, and the Dawes Act
- Series 8, 9, and 10 – Choctaw History Through The Eyes Of An Artist-for her artwork memorializing Commerce and Railroads through Indian Territory, the Oklahoma Land Rush, and the controversial Blood Quantum statistic.
THE DAWES ACT of 1887 and the subsequent allotment policy depleted the land base, ending hunting as a means of subsistence. The men were forced into the fields and the women were relegated to the “domestic” sphere. Native gender roles and relations quickly changed with this policy, since before communal living had shaped the social order of Native communities. Women were no longer the caretakers of the land but were now dependent upon their husband. Before land allotment, Native women were leaders in their communities instead of placeholders. Most aspects of Native society were shared, including land.
“Anglo-American women were unable to see the losses incurred by Native American women at the time because of their fundamental differences in every aspect of life. Native women had begun to take hits to their economic and social roles long before their loss of land. From the time that westward expansion began, it was not only assumed but also expected that native women would become more like their European counterparts. This began with the release of systematic images showing Native American women as equal parts exotic and helpless, instead of a woman capable of maintaining a civilization.” – Negotiators of Change: Historical Perspectives on Native American Women, Nancy Shoemaker
Illustration: The land allotment certificate given to my great grand father Robert Nale. These certificates were granted by the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, upon approval. The painting is of a Choctaw man dressed in traditional clothing.
1903 – present
The Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes determined in 1903 to withhold from allotment all lands in the Nation containing pine timber of commercial value (1,247,473 acres) so as to protect the timber from further depredation and allow for its disposal in a manner “more profitable to the Choctaw.”
The Choctaw opposed the Commission’s decision to withhold the land in the pine timber region from allotment, since many allottees would thereby be deprived of homesteads upon with they had already build improvements and constructed homes. Although not authorized by Congress, the Department of the Interior between 1909-1911 began to take steps toward selling Choctaw timberland, including cruising the timber. Much of this land is still held in trust by the government.
Not only were private citizens defrauding the Choctaw of their land and timber, but even the federal government was taking the opportunity to acquire timber at the cheapest possible price.
The income to be derived from these forests, properly conducted, would, without doubt, more than pay the appraised value of the lands, and at the same time the forest may be kept intact for the continuous enjoyment and profitable use of the inhabitants in the future. – Acting director, 1906 Geological Survey to the Federal Government
Illustration: This painting shows a Choctaw woman in traditional dress standing in a bank of tall pines, no longer part of her own homestead.
1918 – present
The Choctaw Code Talkers were a group of Choctaw Indians from Oklahoma who pioneered the use of Native American languages as a military code. Their exploits took place during the waning days of World War I. The Choctaw Nation maintains these men were the first Native code talkers to serve in the military.
The men who made up the United States’ first code talkers were either full-blood or mixed-blood Choctaw Indians. All were born in the Choctaw Nation of the Indian Territory, in what is now southeastern Oklahoma, when their nation was a self-governed republic. Later, other tribes would use their languages for the military in various units, most notably the Navajo in World War II.
It is important to note that when the United States entered WWI, a draft was applied and Native American men were required to register even though they did not become citizens of this country until 1924. Nevertheless 12,000 Native Americans volunteered their time and life to fighting in WWI. Even though these Native men were punished at one point in their lives for speaking their native tongue (while attending government schools), it was a practice that came to save countless lives.
Illustration: This painting shows the original code talkers (in the background) along with a painting of my father, who served as a pilot in the Korean War and an intelligence officer in the Vietnam War. In 1953, his plane was shot down in Won Son Bay, Korea, for which he received the Purple Heart. During his service, he was honored with 10 Aviator Awards as well as numerous medals and decorations. He made it his life’s mission to serve his country. His grandfather was an original Choctaw enrollee 813#l.
The painting of the flag is from a photo my father took while on the aircraft carrier USS Antietam.
Reflections Then and Now
By 1907, when Oklahoma achieved statehood, the federal government had adopted the position that the Choctaw Nation had ceased to exist. Not until the present generation did the courts begin to uphold some of the Choctaw claims to national sovereignty. Making rulings about Choctaw claims has been complicated by competing claims of several state governments and those of the U.S. government.
History shows that allotment proved to be disastrous. Within a generation, most of the allotted land passed from Choctaw ownership to white ownership, often by fraudulent means. Enrolled Choctaws did not receive payment for the sale of the nation’s public land until 1920, and for the sale of mineral resources until 1949. The President of the United States appointed a chief for the Choctaws until Choctaw elections resumed in 1971.
The history of the Choctaw Nation serves as a case study of how Indian tribes, as sovereign nations, have been caught up in one of the great tensions in the political history of the United States, states’ rights and centralized government. And how contemporary Indian tribes have moved from a sense of tribal identity in the early nineteenth century, to an increasingly individualistic attitude toward tribal government in the assimilationist era of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. (The Resurgence of the Choctaws in the 20th Century, Clara Sue Kidwell)
Presently, the Choctaw are the third-largest Native American tribe in the country, yet many of their small communities and town are isolated, rural, and poor. In 2014, the poverty rate in the Choctaw Nation was approximately 23% and in some places 50%. Many children live in homes without running water. Teen pregnancy is almost twice the national average. In 2014 President Obama named the Choctaw Nation one of the five Promise Zones. (reported by MSNBC 2014)
The Choctaw Nation of today focuses on providing health and education services to its people and preserving their culture through language programs and cultural events.
Illustration: This painting shows the Indian Centennial Postage Stamp issued in 1948 at the request of Senator Elmer Thomas of Oklahoma to commemorate the Five Civilized Tribes. In the foreground is a traditionally dressed Choctaw elder.
Karen 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.