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Kiowa - 20th Century

Early 20th Century

Allotment began in 1906 and was halted in 1936. During that time the tribe lost a significant amount of land in southeastern Oklahoma. More than 65 percent of individual tribal land holdings were lost to Euro-American settlers. Roughly 93 percent of tribal-owned pasture lands were lost. The region was struck by draughts in the 1920s, and much of the tribe fell into poverty.

Without hunts, war, or a sustainable economy to create opportunities for members of the tribe to gain status, the Kiowa’s traditional ranked society disintegrated, which caused a weakened tribal political organization. Although oil and gas were discovered on tribal lands, it did not help the tribe’s economic issues. Mining leases were first offered in 1914, but the lease fees were too small in comparison to the oil companies’ profits for the tribe to realize any benefits. The federal government also controlled the leasing, and most of the funds were kept by the government to be handled by the agency.

Peyote and the Native American Church

Christian missionaries arrived at the southern border of the Kiowa and Comanche reservation around 1880, but Christianity was not as popular with the Kiowa as the Native American Church. The use of peyote, a cactus with hallucinogenic properties, was central to the Native American Church. Native populations in Mexico had been using peyote in rituals for hundreds of years, but its ritual use started to spread north in the late 19th century. When peyote is ingested as part of a ritual it brings about a vision. Much like the Ghost Dance, peyote rituals spread across numerous tribes during a time of great stress. Leaders from the Kiowa, Oto, and Arapaho met in 1918 and decided to incorporate the Native American Church to preserve traditional religious observances and culture. Through incorporation the Native American Church was legally registered and fell under the protection of the first amendment of the United States Constitution.

Kiowa Six

The Kiowa experienced a cultural revival through art in the 20th century. Monroe Tsatoke, Spencer Asah, Stephen Mopope, Jack Hokeah, Bou-ge-tah Smokey, and James Auchiah enrolled in art school at the University of Oklahoma in 1928. These artists became known as the Kiowa Six. They recorded many important rituals and legends of the tribe. They established a modern school for Native American painting, which produced a path for future Kiowa and members of other tribes to follow.

Roosevelt Administration and Federal Policy Changes

John Collier became Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 1930s. Collier proposed legislation known as the Indian Reorganization Act or the Wheeler-Howard Act. The act would end allotment, open new lands to be purchased for ownership by tribes, expand educational opportunities for tribes, and create a fund for industrial and agricultural development in tribal communities. The act was also designed to establish a system to create elected tribal governments and extend legal protection to expressions of tribal culture and religion. Collier and members of the Commission on Indian Affairs met with the Kiowa on March 20, 1934.

The Kiowa were living in rural areas, which made them isolated enough to retain cohesion between tribe members. With few tribe members owning large properties, the tribe had limited contact with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which tended to focus on wealthy Native Americans with more property. Because of these factors, the federal government had little influence over the tribe. Kiowa leaders opposed the act because they worried change could weaken the tribe. Regardless of the tribe’s opposition, Congress passed the act in 1934, and it was extended to Native Americans in Oklahoma in 1936 as the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.

Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act

The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act ceased allotment and the diminishing of Kiowa lands. Some lost lands were restored. The act also established tribal governments. The Inter-tribal Business Committee became a body for the expression of tribal views. Committee members were elected democratically by the tribes and not appointed by the federal government. New laws were passed to protect ethnic identity and the development of tribal economies. A federal fund was created to loan money for the development for Native American businesses and was managed by the Inter-tribal Business Committee.

The tribe benefited from the changes made by the act. The Great Depression and the dust bowl conditions in Oklahoma made recovery slow, but things were improving. Stronger political leadership in the tribe was developing, youths had access to better education, and rural economic development plans were in motion. Kiowa cultural renewal reached a new peak in the 1950s. After the World Wars I and II, honored veterans gained membership in new versions of the traditional warrior societies.

Political Divide and Escaping a New Threat to the Tribe

Kicking Bird was a Kiowa chief who converted to Christianity in the 1870s. He was a political rival of Sitting Bear, another Kiowa chief. Kicking Bird and his followers? descendants provided the roots of progressive Kiowa politics. Sitting Bear and his followers? descendant form a significant portion of conservatives in the tribe. The tribe had two major political factions that surfaced in the 1950s. Both factions were deeply rooted in Kiowa history and were even linked to the descendants of previous political rivals. Progressives were more often the descendants of Kiowa who converted to Christianity. They often worked for the government and tried to maintain power through redistributing wealth. The conservatives were more likely associated with the Native American Church. Some were even the keepers of sacred medicine bundles. They were concerned with the preservation of Kiowa traditions. They managed to hold greater authority over the tribe.

Both factions were opposed to the termination policy of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. The new policy attempted to end all programs benefiting tribes. Designated tribes even lost federal recognition during this period so that they were no longer eligible for federal assistance. The progressive leaders worried that termination was inescapable. The conservatives supported the use of delay tactics. The Kiowa eventually avoided termination through refusing to cooperate with the federal government.

Kiowa Litigation and the Indian Claims Commission

The Indian Claims Commission was created by Congress in 1946 to investigate claims made by Native Americans of prior injustices committed against them to seize their lands. The commission handled the settlement of claims where the United States was in violation of treaties made between the federal government and one or more tribes. The Kiowa were one of the first tribes to bring their claims before the commission. This was their opportunity to fight the Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock decision and the violations of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, committed by the Jerome Commission.

Testimony before the Indian Claims Commission commenced in 1949. The litigation was drawn out and complicated. The federal government argued that any financial award to the Kiowa for damages by the Jerome Agreement be allocated to offset 1.5 million dollars in damages, charged to the tribe for depredations against Euro-American settlers. The Kiowa were victorious, even though they faced many delays and the standing Supreme Court ruling in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock. The Indian Claims Commission resolved that offsets for depredations were contrary to the purpose of the proceedings. The Kiowa’s legal victory established a new precedent for claims in favor of other Native American litigants. The tribe was awarded nearly 2 million dollars by the commission in 1960 after 11 years of litigation.

Late 20th Century

Progressives cooperated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ initiative to encourage youths to relocate to cities under the Eisenhower administration. The progressives felt that the youths could make a better life outside of the rural areas of the former reservation. A significant number of Kiowa relocated to California. Nearly 150 Kiowa were living around San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose by 1964. Kiowa families in the San Francisco area had comparable income to non-Native American families. Conditions on former reservation lands in Oklahoma in the 1970s were challenging. Unemployment rates were as high as 23 percent in 1970. Approximately 80 percent of Kiowa families lived in homes without standard plumbing or electricity. Only half of the tribe’s high school students graduated.

As of 1989 the majority of tribal members live on former reservation lands in Oklahoma. The tribe has made efforts to preserve its culture and identity. Dances are still held and stories are being recorded so that they can be passed to future generations. The Kiowa language is taught to youths, who are encouraged to attend college. Art continues to be an outlet for cultural preservation. The largest challenges to the Kiowa today remain economic in nature.

One Kiowa’s Influence on the Future for Native Americans

One Kiowa has been a powerful leader and influential figure in laws regarding Native Americans and indigenous populations internationally. Kirke Kickingbird was born on former reservation lands in Oklahoma. He earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. He served as chairman of the Indian Law Committee of the Federal Bar Association, general counsel of the American Indian Policy Review Commission, director of the Center for Development of American Indian Law, and as a representative of the United States at the 1977 United Nations Geneva Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations. After years of service in Washington, D. C., he returned to Oklahoma and continued to practice law. He has offered training and technical assistance to more than 150 tribes across the United States and Canada. Since his return to Oklahoma, he has served as director for the Native American Legal Resource Center at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, and Special Counsel on Indian Affairs to the Governor of Oklahoma. He devotes his spare time to programs for Native American youths.

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Entry: Kiowa - 20th Century

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.