Exiled in Indian country: the Kickapoo tribe | News


Across many stories, a common thread in Kickapoo’s story remains: forced movement. It was something the tribe saw so frequently, and in such a way, that their origin cannot be traced to a separate location.

“I used to hear (the elders) about how the army made them move again, (but the colony) wasn’t there very long until we had to move again,” Cecelia Pensoneau Blanchard, the first female president of the Kickapoo Tribe, recalled in a 1985 interview with Joe L. Todd, on file with the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Blanchard was born in February 1909, just west of McLoud on her father’s housing estate. Her father, Steve Pensoneau, was Kickapoo and Potawatomi, but mostly Shawnee as she remembers. His allotment was one of the few Shawnee parcels that fell north, rather than south, of the Canadian River.

Axie Lunt, or Pem-meah-quah, as she was called in Kickapoo, was his mother. Lunt died when Blanchard was 7 years old, leaving her to live in Indian residential schools and helping her raise her younger siblings.

She began her education at McLoud, but soon went to Shawnee Mission School and eventually ended up at Shawnee Indian School, a facility run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that she describes as an orphanage.

“We had to wait on tables and clean our dorms, and (we’d) get demerits if we spoke Indian, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t speak Indian,” Blanchard said. “I was doing a good job when my mother was alive, but after she left I didn’t have anyone, you know, immediately around me who was talking.”

His mother was a citizen of what Blanchard called the Kansas Kickapoo Indian Band of the Ohio Valley.

“The place they talked about the most was Wabash in Illinois,” Blanchard said of his mother and the other older Kickpaoo recounting their trip to Oklahoma. Historical records of the Kickapoo people often link them to the Great Lakes region. The tribe split up after leaving Wisconsin and the Prairie Band remained in central Illinois, while the Vermilion Band occupied the Wabash Basin spoken of by the elders.

The Prairie and Vermilion bands, the latter to which the Mascoutens joined, signed treaties with the United States in 1819, relinquishing rights to their lands. The bands moved back and forth, moving to various parts of the country, eventually settling in Kansas, Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, before the Civil War.

The part of the Kickapoo tribe that lived in Texas would face conflict due to the newly independent country’s anti-Indian policies. Eventually this led to many Texan and Mexican Kickapoo settling in Oklahoma and then southern Kansas where they would join the Union, attacking the tribes of Oklahoma who fought with the South during the civil war.

The Civil War wasn’t the only time Kickapoo joined the war effort. During World War I, when Blanchard was at the Haskell Indian School, the U.S. Army convinced many young men that serving the country was better than staying in school, she said. in the recorded interview.

After the Civil War, the Kickapoo were three main groups: Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mexican, according to the “Handbook of North American Indians.” The Kickapoo of Oklahoma lived at this time in an area between the Canadian and Deep Fork rivers. This area would eventually become the site of Oklahoma’s last land race in 1895.

From 1890 to 1893, the Oklahoma Kickapoo divergence into two groups became distinct. The traditional group opposed settler housing estates and culture, and the progressive group embraced modernity. Federal officials were finally able to obtain the signatures of tribal leaders on documents accepting allotments and in 1893 many settlers, or Sooners, began settling in Kickapoo territory, years before the official opening on the 23rd May 1895.

The land on Kickapoo Country remains one of the most contentious points in history for the tribe and many Oklahomans. The area involved a small amount of land, and promises to withdraw the Sooners and grant land to settlers who had waited were not kept.

The Kickapoo are an Algonquian-speaking people closely related to the Sauk, Fox and Mascouten tribes. Native lore holds that the Kickapoo and Shawnee tribes were once united, but disbanded due to a disagreement over a bear’s foot. Several other tribes have affiliations with the Kickapoo in history, including the Miami, Potawatomi, and Quapaw.

Blanchard recalled in the interview that during powwows, each tribe had a story about the origin of life, with each claiming a certain claim to creation. She said Native Americans coexisted and traded goods and services long before anyone thought of keeping a record.

“That trade was (the Indian’s) strength,” Blanchard said. “They say the Indian is shrinking, but it’s really not because of where intermarriage and so many other things have kept them.”

At the time of the interview in 1985, Blanchard had a collection of items, including a dress given to her by the Blackfoot tribe and a buffalo drum. Most of her artifacts had come to her from other tribes and she hoped they would one day end up in a museum.

Throughout her interview, there were times when Blanchard would come to topics that she felt weren’t hers to talk about fully, despite her once high position in the tribe. When asked about Kickapoo headpieces, she mentioned that some parts of the subject matter were sacred but shared what she was able to do.

“There’s a great respect for (eagle) feathers, I can tell, and when you see a woman wearing a feather, that’s not right,” Blanchard said. “It’s supposed to be up there and not on her. The Kickapoo ladies respect the feather.”

Blanchard explained that the reason certain things are not discussed is that they were considered sacred or beneficial and believed to be the origin of strength by many Native American tribes. This can range from baptismal ceremonies to the very dwellings that Native Americans inhabit.

“It’s like a cathedral. Maybe your family wouldn’t be entitled to it, but I could come there and enjoy it and enjoy it,” Blanchard said.

The history of the Kickapoo tribe of Oklahoma is rich and complex. However, according to Blanchard, looking to the future with your fellow man in mind was the most important thing for all tribes.

“Now these are the types of things that I think are detrimental to Indians, not just Kickapoo, but Indians: lack of foresight,” Blanchard said. “It might not do me any good, ‘So what?’ There are people out there who are more important than I ever thought they were.”

Editor’s Note: Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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