Five Civilized Tribes
The Five Civilized Tribes was a loose confederation, formed in 1859, of North American Indians in what was then INDIAN TERRITORY (in present-day Oklahoma). The group comprised the Iroquoian-speaking CHEROKEE and the Muskogean-speaking CHICKASAW, CHOCTAW, CREEK, and SEMINOLE. They were described as "civilized" because of their early adoption of many of the white man's ways. Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Five Tribes were deported from their traditional homelands east of the Mississippi and forced to settle in Indian Territory. Each organized an autonomous state modeled after the U.S. federal government, established courts and a formalized code of laws, constructed schools and Christian churches, and developed a writing system patterned on the one earlier devised by the Cherokee.
Members of the Five Tribes absorbed many cultural features of their white neighbors, including plow agriculture and animal husbandry, European-style houses and dress, and even the ownership of black slaves. Some tribesmen joined the Confederate forces during the Civil War.
Thereafter the United States instituted a policy
of detribalization and gradually curtailed
Indian control of tribal lands. The tribal nations remained independent until 1907, when statehood was granted to Oklahoma and the
federal government opened Indian Territory
to white settlement. Today, a great many descendants of the Five Tribes live on reservations in Oklahoma.
Before forced settlement in Indian Territory, the members of the Five Tribes, some of which were traditionally enemies, shared many culture traits. All relied primarily on maize agriculture, with fishing, hunting, and foraging an important but subsidiary means of subsistence. Village life was highly developed. Households generally included small extended families, with kinship based on a matrilineal clan system.
Among the more western tribes, notably the Creek, social stratification existed in the form of noble and common classes that were marked by their mode of dress. Independent communities were politically integrated into confederacies. Temple architecture, ceremonial centers, and elaborate rituals--such as the CORN DANCE--existed, centered on the growing of corn and worship of the Sun. Traditional crafts included coiled pottery, woven blankets, and articles of wrought copper.