Robert Latham Owen, Jr. was one of the first two senators to represent the State of Oklahoma. Owen was a Cherokee through his mother who was a big part of his life. Owen helped Native Americans in many ways in the first part of the 20th century. Owen used his position to secure monetary gains for Native Americans through action in the U.S. Court System and through legislation in Congress.
After Owen finished obtaining a top education at William and Lee University he moved into Indian Territory to the town of Salina. Here he taught at a Cherokee orphan asylum and held other prominent positions in the area before he began to practice law in 1880 . At this time Indian Territory did not have a U.S. Court System within its borders but Owen promoted a compulsory arbitration system. Through this Owen was able to settle thousands of civil suits between the people of Indian Territory . This lasted until Owen helped to establish the U.S. courts in the territory in 1889 . This was the start of the many cases Owen would be a part of when representing various Native American groups.
The most prominent case for Owen was when he represented the Eastern Cherokees in a suit against the United States Government in 1906. The suit was over land and the payment for that land as outlined in a treaty signed in 1893 . Owen won this case for the Eastern Cherokees and they were awarded nearly five million dollars . This was a victory for not only Owen and the Eastern Cherokees but also for all Native American groups. This allowed them to get at least some type of gain after being removed from their lands. Owen represented other bands such as the Western Cherokees who were awarded $800,000 and the Choctaws and Chickasaws who were awarded three million dollars . These cases helped Native American groups secure funds they were owed as well as expedite the process of receiving those funds.
In the early 20th century the issue on admitting Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory to the Union as states. Owen was a key member in helping to organize the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention . This was an attempt at getting Indian Territory admitted as the State of Sequoyah, separate from Oklahoma. Partially due to party politics, the Sequoyah Convention was not successful. However, it opened the door for the Oklahoma Enabling Act. This allowed Oklahoma and Indian territories to elect delegates to draft a constitution for entrance to the Union as The State of Oklahoma . This was a big step towards assimilation of the Native Americans as they were truly becoming a part of the country that changed the way their people lived.
After Oklahoma was admitted, Owen was chosen as one of two Senators to represent the state in the U.S. Senate. Owen’s ancestry as well as his expertise got him appointed to three of the committees dealing with Native American affairs . One of the first bills Owen supported was the Removal of Restrictions Act of 1908. This act removed...