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Ottawa Tribe

By Scott Haas

Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma logo

Since initially being removed from the Great Lakes area in 1831, the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma has had a long journey, separated from the main tribe by hundreds of miles.

The Ottawa Tribe first settled around the Great Lakes, which includes the Detroit area, as well as Ohio and parts of Canada. 

They are one of the four recognized tribes of the Odawas, which means “traders,”as they were known for buying and selling with other tribes in the area. 

In 1831, after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, most of the Odawas were exempt from being removed due to being west of the Mississippi River.

However, the portion that was east of the Mississippi River was forced to relocate and moved south to Kansas.

In the first three years after being moved to Kansas, they lost nearly half their members due to the drastic change in living conditions from the cool, damp north to the dry, hot plains. 

“Another big impact on the tribe was all the wars prior to the removal,” said Rhonda Hayworth, Ottawa historian/librarian/archivist.  “During the second removal, there were 35 adults and 150-some children who were removed, so there were a lot of orphan children in that removal.”

After living in Kansas for a time, the Ottawa used money from their allotment in Kansas to buy the land  they are currently on in Oklahoma.  Tribal headquarters is in Miami.

At the time, the Ottawa people believed that if they used their own money to buy land,  the government would not be able to remove them again.

Nevertheless, the government came and allotted some of the land they had purchased and gave it to other tribes. 

The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma enrollment is about 3,000, while the Ottawa tribe as a whole is about 300,000 strong. 

The Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma was able to gain federal recognition in 1936, which allowed members  to receive numerous benefits, including education.

They lost recognition in 1956, but were able to regain it in 1979 under a bill signed by President Jimmy Carter.

Some of the Ottawa tribes in the north didn’t know about the Oklahoma Ottawas until a decade or so ago, Hayworth said. Since then, they’ve been in contact with one another and have kept other tribes informed about each other.

Scott Haas is a reporter with Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.