History & Culture

Indian Removal Act — 1830

Signed into law in 1830 by President Andrew Jackson, the Indian Removal Act provided for the general resettlement of Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River to lands west (Indian Territory). Although the removal was supposed to be voluntary, removal became mandatory whenever the government thought necessary. Thousands of Indian people including nearly the entire Indian population that had existed in the southeastern United States were moved west. The first removal treaty to follow the passage of the Indian Removal Act was with the Choctaw Nation (1830). In 1838 the Cherokee Nation was removed to reservations in what has been called “The Trail of Tears.” It is estimated that almost 8,000 Cherokee people died on the forced march or shortly thereafter. The removal period also saw the massive movement of missionaries stationing themselves west of the Mississippi. With the expectation of the Indians’ demise as a people, missionaries made a great effort to “civilize” and Christianize Native Americans. “Tribes and nations must perish and live only as men.” (Berkhofer 1967, p. 7) The removal concept was further refined after the mid-century when it became evident that U.S. expansion planned to claim the West as well as the East. U.S. government officials concluded unspecified tracts of “Indian Territory” needed to be more sharply defined into reservations. Those opposing westward expansion were rounded up and forcibly confined to the reservations. This instigated the Great Plains wars of the 1860s-1880s.

Allotment Act — 1887

In 1887 Congress passed the General Allotment Act also known as the ‘Dawes Act’. “Friends” of American Indians believed that this act and other assimilationist practices were an alternative to the extinction of Indian people. The Cherokee and the other Five Civilized Tribes which included the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole resisted the act. The act stated that the head of each family would receive 160 acres of tribal land and each single person would receive 80 acres. Title to the land would be held in trust by the government for 25 years. After 25 years each individual would receive United States citizenship and fee simple title to their land. Tribal lands not allotted to Native Americans on the reservation were to be sold to the United States and the land would be opened for homesteading. Proceeds from the land sales were to be placed in trust and used by the government as an account for supplies provided to Indian people. The Cherokees western land extension was sold to the United States in 1891 and in 1893 opened, mostly to non-Indian setters, in a famous land run. When the allotment process began in 1887, the total land held by American Indian tribes on reservations equaled 138,000,000 acres. By the end of the allotment period landholdings had been reduced to 48,000,000 acres. Since 1934 the landholdings have slowly increased to 56,000,000 acres.

Citizenship Act — 1924

A one sentence act “[A]ll non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States,” made all American Indians citizens of the United States. Most Native Americans considered this Act to be long overdue. Throughout history, a few treaties offered Native Americans citizenship options. However, in many cases individuals were forced to choose between staying with their tribes and being removed to the west or remaining behind in the old lands and accepting citizenship and a small allotment of land. The Dawes Act of 1887 conferred citizenship to those who received land allotments after they held in trust for 25 years. Some Native Americans, like the Cherokee, became citizens when their state was admitted to the Union. Another act in 1888 declared that Indian women who married U.S. citizens would be given citizenship. In 1924, when the Citizenship Act was passed almost one-third of the Indian people in the United States were still not considered citizens.

Termination Policy — 1953-1968

In 1943 the United States Senate conducted a survey of Indian conditions. The living conditions on the reservations were found to be horrific, with the residents living in severe poverty. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal bureaucracy were found to be at fault for the troubling problems due to extreme mismanagement. Thus began the era of the governments’ efforts to eradicate the Indian tribes of North America. The U.S. government called this their “Termination Policy.” The government believed that there were tribes that were ready to be part of main stream American society and no longer needed the protection of the federal government. Two tribes, the Klamaths who owned valuable timber property in Oregon and the Agua Caliente, who owned the land around Palm Springs were some of the first tribes to be affected by the policy. These lands, rich in resources, were taken over by the Federal Government. In 1953 Congress adopted an official policy of “termination” declaring that the goal was “as rapidly as possible to make Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States.”(House Concurrent Resolution 108) From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction was turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government. Public Law 280 which was passed in 1953 turned power over to state governments to enforce most of the regular criminal laws on reservations as they were doing in other parts of the state. State governments and tribes disapproved of the law. Tribes disliked states having jurisdiction without tribal consent and state governments resented taking on jurisdiction for these additional areas without additional funding. With such mutual dissent additional amendments to Public Law 280 have been passed to require tribal consent in law enforcement and in some cases the states have been able to return jurisdiction back to the federal government.

Indian Religious Freedom Act – 1978

A joint resolution of Congress, the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 states that it shall be the “policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian . . including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects and freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” As a joint resolution the act had no provisions for enforcement. An act that was finally passed in 1993 provided American Indians with help to retain their sacred sites and the 1994 act made it legal for peyote to be used and transported for ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of traditional Indian religion. Key events in the history of the Northern Plains Native Americans include more than a hundred and fifty years of interaction with white settlers. These events, often tragic and inaccurately documented, contain the historical roots of life today on the Northern Plains reservations. To learn more about the historical key events: Listed on the American Indian Relief Council website: http://airc.org.

Wounded Knee

Sand Creek

Little BighornFt.

Laramie Treaty

Sioux Wars

Bozeman Trail War

Self Determination Act

Indian Religious Freedom Act

Allotment Act

Boarding Schools

Termination Policy

Battle of Slim ButtesIndian Removal Act

Citizenship Act

Source: American Indian Relief Council

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