WEWOKA, Okla. (KFOR) – A group of Seminole Nation Freedmen, descendants of slaves once owned by the Seminoles, are firing back at the Seminole Nation regarding their claim that they were denied the COVID-19 shot at an Indian Health Service clinic in Wewoka last month.
“You’re telling a group of people that is a fourth of the tribe to go ahead and die because you don’t want to give us a shot,” LeEtta Osborne-Sampson, a Freeman citizen of the Seminole Nation, said.
“They sent us a denial letter, saying that we had the wrong cards,” Anthony Conley, a Freeman citizen of the Seminole Nation, said.
Osborne-Sampson and Conley spoke to KFOR last week, claiming they were denied a COVID-19 shot at the Indian Health Service clinic in Wewoka last month, even after showing their tribal ID cards.
“It says 0/0 Indian blood, but it says Freedman,” said Osborne-Sampson. “They told me that they do not recognize their citizens there.”
It’s been a years-and-years long battle for the Freedmen, who are descendants of slaves once owned by the Seminoles.
After a series of lawsuits, they were finally established as full tribal citizens in 2003, according to Conley and Osborne-Sampson.
However, many Freedmen claim they are still being denied services.
The Indian Health Service sent KFOR the following statement on Thursday:
“The Indian Health Service is coordinating closely with tribes and the state of Oklahoma to ensure that vaccines reach Indian Country as quickly and equitably as possible. Together, we aim to provide access to vaccination to anyone who wants it. As vaccine supplies allow, the IHS is expanding access to vaccines in accordance with Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations. The Indian Health Service has administered more than 780,000 COVID-19 vaccines. This achievement is despite the challenges IHS faces in terms of the predominantly rural and remote locations we serve and the infrastructure challenges those communities face. IHS has been consistently administering vaccines at higher rates than most states.
The IHS Wewoka Service Unit provides health care services to the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and other American Indians and Alaska Natives. To support community immunity, the Wewoka Service Unit is currently providing COVID-19 vaccines to American Indians and Alaska Natives, their household members/caregivers, and all other members of the local community, who are 18 years and older, within available vaccine supply. This includes Freedmen of the Seminole Nation who reside in the local community. The Wewoka Service Unit is providing vaccination by appointment and at community vaccination events.
The Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service is not involved in determining tribal enrollment of individual citizens. The Oklahoma City Area provides health care services to eligible beneficiaries in accordance with federal statute and regulations.”INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE SPOKESPERSON
Seminole Nation Chief Greg P. Chilcoat also released the following statement Thursday:
“The United States Indian Health Service is the entity in charge of administering Covid-19 vaccinations to the Seminole Nation, and it is the Nation’s understanding that such vaccine dissemination is being administered entirely consistent with federal law and policy in providing such vaccinations. Any allegation that the Seminole Nation is denying access of the Covid-19 vaccine to a group of people is entirely false.”SEMINOLE NATION CHIEF GREG CHILCOAT
After our story aired, Conley sent KFOR a recording that he said proves he was denied the shot at the Wewoka clinic.
“I was calling to see if – I’m a Seminole Freedman – and if I could get a COVID shot,” Conley is heard saying on the recording.
“Okay, we don’t honor the Freedmen,” a woman is heard saying. “But we are doing the non-Native American COVID shots starting on Friday.”
“So, the Freedmen can get one after Friday?” Conley asked.
“No, we don’t honor that,” the woman replied.
“Oh, you don’t honor the Freedmen? We cannot get one?” Conley asked.
“Do you have a Native American that lives in the home that comes here?” the woman asked Conley.
“No, I don’t,” he replied.
The clinic is now giving shots to anyone over 18, but Conley and Osborne-Sampson said for them, it comes at a price.
“They said, ‘Well, you can come in as a non-Indian,’” Conley said.
“We all have shed the same blood to be called Seminoles,” Osborne-Sampson said.
The Seminole Freemen are currently trying to raise funds to hire an attorney to file yet another lawsuit, according to Conley and Osborne-Sampson.
The Seminole Nation released the following statements on 3.29.21.
“On behalf of the Seminole Nation, I would like to extend our condolences to all families who have experienced loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Seminole Nation is deeply concerned to learn the Wewoka Indian Health Services clinic denied descendants of Seminole Freedman access to COVID-19 vaccines. To be clear, the Seminole Nation does not operate the Wewoka Indian Health Services clinic, has absolutely no policy oversight and was in no way involved with administering COVID-19 vaccines. The administration of health care services and administration of COVID-19 vaccines at the Wewoka Indian Health Services clinic rests solely with the Indian Health Service, a federal agency that operates under the guidance of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It is apparent that descendants of the Seminole Freedman have been misled to believe the Seminole Nation had a part in denying them access to COVID-19 vaccines. Because the allegations made against the Seminole Nation are entirely baseless and false, the Nation recommends the descendants of Seminole Freedman seek remedy directly from the United States for any rights or liberties they believe are owed. Approximately 299 adult descendants of Seminole Freedman reside within the Seminole Nation’s reservation boundary, which accounts for 1.6%, comparatively. We encourage descendants of Seminole Freedman to seek proper recourse or remedy from the United States government.”
“Lastly, we understand some have attempted to conflate the failure of Indian Health Services to provide COVID-19 vaccinations into a platform that the Seminole Nation is racially and maliciously motivated against to allow harm to befall descendants of the Seminole Freedman. As a minority group that has overcome extreme prejudice, economic hardship, being stripped of our homelands in Florida, a forced death march of our ancestors and paternalistic United States policies over 235 years, the Seminole Nation declares such allegations as false, reckless, and harmful to the Nation. The Seminole Nation has deep respect for all people regardless of race, color or national origin.”
Seminole Nation Chief Gregory P. Chilcoat