The Sustained Self-Sufficiency of the Five Civilized Tribes

Five Indian nations were called the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw. They were called the Five Civilized Tribes because they exported cotton, created school systems, and established courts and police. They remained economically and politically independent and self-sufficient.

In some villages Christian church communities replaced village communities, and many villages spread out over the land.

Families lived on their own share of tribal land, following traditions of use and occupancy. Most tribal members maintained small farms and traded cotton, corn, cattle, hogs, and furs to purchase necessities and other manufactured goods.

The combination of economic self-sufficiency and political autonomy was very powerful. During the same period in the 1800s, many tribal nations were engaged in the fur trade. However, after 1820, the fur trade declined due to the widespread use of manufactured cotton textiles and the overexploitation of fur-bearing animals by Indian and non-Indian hunters. Without the fur trade, many Indians nations were forced to move farther west, which led to conflict with other Indian nations. Other chose to sell their land and live in poor conditions on Indian reservations.

Even though the southeastern nations were self-sufficient and politically independent, they were dismantled in 1906, partly because tribal members did not display the individualistic self-interest that Americans associated with civilized society. The five southeastern nations provided examples of what can be achieved by indigenous nations when they have freedom and opportunities. They chose political independence, market engagement, and economic self-sufficiency, while upholding many of their traditions and values.

Source: The Sustained Self-Sufficiency of the Five Civilized Tribes
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