Black Freedmen struggle for recognition as tribal citizens

Written by Sean Murphy
Published on 3rd May 2021

LeEtta Osborne-Sampson is pictured outside her home April 26, 2021, in Oklahoma City. Sampson-Osborn, a Seminole Freedman who has a tribal identification card and serves on the tribe’s governing council, said when she went to the Indian Health Services clinic to get a vaccination in February, a worker at the clinic told her the Seminole Nation doesn’t recognize Freedmen for health services. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

 LeEtta Osbourne-Sampson, a Seminole Freedman, reported that she was denied a Covid-19 vaccine because she is not considered a citizen of the Seminole Nation despite holding a tribal identification card and serving on the tribe’s council. Seminole Freedmen are the descendants of enslaved people that were owned by Native American Tribes. Several other Seminole Freedmen have shared that they have been denied access to healthcare and housing subsidies, which are entitled to tribe citizens. The Seminole Nation stated that they are not responsible for the distribution of vaccines and that this decision was passed by the Indian Health Service (HIS). Currently, LeEtta Osbourne-Sampson and other Freedmen are in discussions with an attorney to take this case to Federal Court.

 The Seminole tribe were one of five Native American tribes, were called the civilised tribes by European settlers in the 17th century because of their assimilation to European culture at the time, including the adoption of their dress and religion. These tribes were displaced from their lands in south-eastern America by European settlers and eventually settled in Oklahoma. The enslaved people they owned were forced to provide labour during the journey and worked as house slaves to tribe members or toiled on farmland owned by Native American tribes. During the civil war, freed black people served alongside tribal members. Hundreds of years later, Freedmen are demanding recognition as full tribal citizens.

“We fought in three wars with them to get where we’re at, and now they’ve turned against us,” – Anthony Conley, A Freedman who was also denied a vaccine at the same clinic.

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