Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Joshua Piker

Committee Member

Andrew Fisher

Committee Member

Hannah Rosen


“Hold for Investigation”: Minnie Atkins and the Contestation of Indigeneity in the Twentieth Century The United States Government prosecuted Minnie Atkins, a Yuchi-Creek woman, over a land dispute beginning in 1914. The Government questioned the legality of Atkins’ ownership of former Creek tribal land allotted to Thomas Atkins. This seemingly useless piece of land had generated both public and private interest as it was located within the bounds of the highly lucrative Cushing Oil Field. Over the course of near a decade, Minnie Atkins not only was forced to defend her rights as an American private landowner protected under the laws of the United States, but also her identity as a Native woman with tribal rights and her status as the mother of Thomas Atkins. This paper examines Minnie Atkins’ life and experiences within the context of the United States’ settler colonial project. It reveals that allotment, as a tool of setter colonialism, served to commodify “Indianness.” The case United States of America vs. Minnie Atkins, et al. (Equity – 2131) reveals that the United States’ settler colonial project created a dangerous paradox in which Atkins asserted her indigeneity as she called upon the American legal system to protect her rights as an American landowner. “I would not say she was of negro blood; she looks very like an Indian”: Discourses of Race and Indigeneity in United States of America vs. Minnie Atkins In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the case United States of America vs. Minnie Atkins, et al. (Equity – 2131) had become the topic of much debate both inside and outside of the courtroom. As much as the case was a both property and wealth, it was about race. Lawyers, national newspapers, and the general public alike debated whether or not Minnie Atkins was an “Indian,” and whether or not as such she was entitled to legally inherit former Creek tribal land that had been allotted to her son, Thomas Atkins. This paper examines a selection of witnesses’ statements presented to the United States Court of Appeals. These statements reveal popular notions at the time relied on malleable, social phenomena to determine biological race though it was supposedly fixed. Witness statements also highlight the extent to which the white-black binary structured America’s racial discourse, as well as how malleable conceptions of race imposed on individuals such as Minnie Atkins. Officially, the United States Government had placed Minnie Atkins on trial over her claims to Thomas Atkins’ allotted lands, however, the case reveals indigeneity itself was on trial within a settler colonial framework further complicated by the white-back binary.



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