OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Indian Health Service announced earlier this week that Freedmen citizens of the Seminole Nation are now eligible for health care services.
“It says 0/0 Indian blood, but it says Freedman,” LeEtta Osborne told News 4 back in March, talking about her tribal card. “They told me that they do not recognize their citizens there.”
That’s what happened in March when Osborne-Sampson tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine at the Indian Health Service clinic in Wewoka.
It happened to Seminole Freedman Anthony Conley, too.
“I was calling to see if – I’m a Seminole Freedman – and if I could get a COVID shot,” Conley said to an employee of the clinic over the phone.
“Okay, we don’t honor the Freedmen,” she replied. “But we are doing the non-Native American COVID shots starting on Friday.”
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.
On Tuesday, Seminole Freedmen received an encouraging update from the IHS headquarters in D.C.
“I am very excited about it. I’m very happy. I’m elated,” Osborne-Sampson said.
She received a long letter from IHS, reading in part IHS “has determined that the Seminole Freedmen are eligible for health care services.”
“It took 12 years to get the point across and I’m so glad it’s here now. I hate that a lot of people have gone on that did not get to see that,” Osborne-Sampson said. “We feel like somebody now.”
Osborne-Sampson told News 4 this is only the beginning to an ongoing journey that’s far from over.
“We can’t get jobs with the nation. We can’t do a lot of other things. Just like with the CARES Act money. They voted us out of that,” Osborne-Sampson said. “We’re tired of being considered second-class citizens of this nation, because this is our home. This is our people, whether they looks like us or not.”
KFOR reached out to the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma to see if they have any comments about the news from IHS, and we have not heard back.