The Sustained Self-Sufficiency of the Five Civilized Tribes

Five Indian nations between 1820 and 1870 were called the Five Civilized Tribes—the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw. They were called the Five Civilized Tribes because they engaged in for-profit cotton export, created tribal school systems, established courts, police, and remained economically and politically independent and self-sufficient.

Throughout the five nations, in some villages Christian church communities replaced village communities, and many village communities spread out over the land.

Family maintained their own livelihood on a share of tribal land that was used along traditional lines of use and occupancy. Most tribal members maintained small farms, and traded cotton, corn, cattle, hogs and furs to purchase necessities and luxury 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. The fur trade, however, after 1820, declined owing to the rise and widespread use of manufactured cotton textiles and the over exploitation of fur bearing animals both by Indian and non-Indian hunters. Without the fur trade, many Indians nations were forced farther west and into conflict with other Indian nations, or to sell land and live impoverished on Indian reservations.

The southeastern nations, although self-sufficient and politically independent, were dismantled in 1906, in part because most tribal members did not display the individualistic self-interest that Americans associated with civilized society. The five southeastern nations are shining examples of what can be and was achieved by indigenous nations when they had freedom and opportunities to choose 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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