On May 15, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law restoring federal recognition to three Oklahoma tribes and granting the same status for a fourth.
Public Law 95-281 recognized the Wyandotte, Peoria and Ottawa tribes of Oklahoma and repealed acts passed in 1956 that terminated the three tribes. It also officially recognized the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, a community of Modoc people forcibly removed from Oregon and separated from the rest of their tribe more than a century earlier.
“The Wyandotte, Ottawa, Peoria and Modoc tribes of Oklahoma and their members shall be entitled to participate in the programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians,” the law states. It specifically granted individuals access to hospital and medical care, for which “members of such tribes shall be deemed to be Indians.”
During the Termination Era, which began in 1953 with House Concurrent Resolution 110, the federal government severed its trust relationship with tribes, stripping them of essential programs, services and funding guaranteed by treaty. Federal laws passed August 1, 2 and 3, 1956, terminated the Wyandotte, Peoria and Ottawa tribes.
“We never did find out exactly why we were terminated,” said Rhonda Dixon Hayworth, historian for the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma. “It seemed they were just going through tribes that were really small and getting rid of them.”
The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma has roots in present-day Canada, Michigan and Ohio, but through a series of treaties during the early 19th century ceded much of its land and moved to Oklahoma. It is one of four federally recognized tribes of Odawa people.
“Since there were other Ottawa tribes in Michigan, they (the government) decided that we didn’t belong here,” Hayworth said. “Termination meant that our people weren’t allowed to use Indian clinics, we had no help through tribal services. There was a general ceasing of all federal services.”
The Wyandotte Nation and the Peoria Tribe, both with homelands in the Great Lakes region and on the East Coast, were similarly fractured and displaced. Remnants of each tribe ultimately settled in Oklahoma where they were targeted for termination.
Immediately following termination, the three tribes hired attorneys to fight the law. But it took 22 years before Public Law 95-281 reversed termination and “reinstated all rights and privileges” of the tribes.
“During the time when we were terminated, people drifted apart, went other places,” Hayworth said. The law “restored our faith in the government that they would honor their treaties with us again. It restored our faith in ourselves that we were a people again.”
Public Law 95-281 also recognized the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, a faction of people forcibly split from the Klamath Tribes in Oregon. The Klamath, a confederacy of three tribes established in 1864, comprises the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin band of Snake Indians, all confined to one reservation in Oregon.
In 1872, the U.S. Army was dispatched to force Modoc stragglers to relocate to the Klamath Agency “by any means necessary.” The Modoc resisted, killed 11 settlers and set up a stronghold among lava beds in northern California.
The Army struck back, launching the Modoc War, which ended in June 1873. A tribunal was held at the Klamath Agency and six Modoc men were found guilty, said Rebecca Bales, associate professor of Native American studies and history at California State University, Monterey Bay.
The military executed four men for their roles in the war. Two others were imprisoned at Alcatraz.
“The Modoc lost the war after fending off the Army for seven months,” said Bales, who is Choctaw, Cherokee and Tarahumara. “After the tribunal and execution, the 153 Modoc who were rebellious were put on trains and cattle cars and sent to Kansas, then eventually to Indian Territory.”
The Klamath Tribes, including the Modoc people of Oregon, were terminated in 1954. The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, meanwhile, operated an unofficial government until 1978 when Public Law 95-281 granted it federal recognition for the first time and extended programs and services for which members were entitled.
“The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma shall consist of those Modoc Indians who are direct lineal descendants of those Modocs removed to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1873,” the law states. It specifically recognizes only Modoc “who did not return to Klamath, Oregon.”
In 1986, Congress passed the Klamath Restoration Act, which restored federal status and services for the Klamath Tribes.