The Climate for Economic Opportunity has Never Been Better for Native America – Part 2 of 4

The Climate for Economic Opportunity has Never Been Better for Native America – Part 2 of 4
August 30, 2016 Darren Maxfield
yakama nation treaty

This series of posts is intending to provide some perspective on the impact of Federal policies towards Native America. These Federal policies have impacted the ability of Native American people to govern their own people, economies and land.

We saw in our previous post that the period of time from the arrival of Christopher Columbus through 1827 was a period of slowly declining Native American power and control over their traditional lands. Formal doctrines were being established which gave the new United States government the legal ability to take more Native lands as the new nation ever increased its need for land and resources.

Relocation/Removal: 1828-1887

With the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, the policy of Indian relocation or removal west of the Mississippi became a stated goal along with continued establishment of Reservations for Indian tribes in the West. Congress passed the Removal Act in 1830 which became the official policy of Native removal to the west of the Mississippi.3

As tribes signed treaties with the US they surrendered rights to their land in exchange for treaty payments and annual rations.3 Rather than being able to feed themselves from their own land, as they had been able to do, they were removed to smaller, less sustainable portions of land becoming more dependent on the US government.3 The United States’ record in honoring its treaties with the various Native American tribes has not been good.

It was during this time that the Supreme Court made another significant decision that excluded the distinct Native Nations from the power of the States.2 This had some impact on slowing the Federal policy of Removal, but by no means stopped it. During this period the infamous removal of the Cherokee nation occurred in which the tribe was relocated from east of the Mississippi to present day Oklahoma in what is now known as the Trail of Tears with over 4,000 perishing during the relocation.2

In 1855, the treaties were signed that established both the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (June 9, 1885) and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (June 25, 1885). The Yakama Nation gave up 90% of their historical lands for the nearly 1.3 million acres set aside under the treaty. The Warm Springs ceded 10 million acres of land to the United States.

It was during this time that religious organizations began “partnering” with Indian agents that were appointed by the Federal government. These organizations set up boarding schools that often were striving to remove Native culture from the young Native students while also sharing the gospel. Unfortunately, the results of this period are looked on unfavorably as many instances of abuse, and elimination of culture and language occurred. The creation of these boarding schools happened in Canada and Australia with similar negative results.

Allotment and Assimilation: 1887-1934

This period starts with a piece of legislation that turned out horribly for the Native American Reservations: The General Allotment Act of 1887, otherwise known as the Dawes Act. The intent of the legislation was to provide Native Americans with plots of land to farm and thereby produce income and assimilate Native Americans into the broader American culture.2 Some looked on this favorably as a means to help Native Americans out of their economic poverty. Others looked on this as a way to purchase land previously set aside to Native Americans.2

Originally, 160 acres of land was allotted to each head of family and 80 acres to others. After 25 years of the land being held in trust by the US Government, the land would be conveyed to the allottee free and clear. Once receiving allotments, the Native Americans became US citizens. In addition, excess land that was not allotted, was available for the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate with the tribes for sale to non-Natives.2

The result of this legislation was devastating for the Tribes. In 1887, Native American tribes held 138 million acres. By 1934, this acreage was reduced by 90 million acres to 48 million acres of which over 40% was desert or semi-desert.2 Very little of the positive aspects predicted for the legislation was seen, while the obvious negative aspects are still clearly visible today.

After the devastating effects on Native America from the previous 100 years of Federal policies, we will see in the next post that there began to be movement towards establishing policies which would benefit the Tribes in the future.

Later posts will discuss the following periods of government policy:

  • Reorganization: 1934-1953
  • Termination: 1953-1968
  • Self-determination: 1968-present1

For simplicity’s sake, I have just referred to sources for this blog post by number. The sources used for these blog posts include:

  1. The Rights of Indians and Tribes, fourth edition, chapter 1. Stephen L Pevar, ©2012
  2. American Indian Law in a Nutshell, sixth edition, chapter 2. William C Canby, Jr, ©2015
  3. Reservation Capitalism: Economic Development in Indian County, Robert J Miller © 2012
  4. Documents of United States Indian Policy, second edition, chapter 19, Francis Paul Prucha, editor ©1975, 1990

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