American Indian Sovereignty Matters

rewind Back to the Colonial Era – Part I

To understand how American Indians were treated during the territorial expansion of the United States, we need to rewind back to the colonial era.

During the colonial era, American Indian policies were formed. Indian sovereignty was recognized politically but the actuality of Indian Sovereignty was disregarded because of Intolerance. Most colonists were intolerant and fearful because they perceived them to be a threat. With racist attitudes, they were referred to as “miserable savages”. The colonists attitude of “superiority” of Christianity and western civilization helped the formation of Four Colonial Policies” to deal with the Indian nations. The four policies:

  1. Preemption/Dispossession – Using the doctrine of discovery the colonists claimed they had the title to ALL Indian land and the Indians only had the right to occupy the land selling it only to the colonists.
  2. Removal     – They contended American Indians needed to be removed from their land and relocated somewhere else. The Delaware Nation was removed from Pennsylvania in 1682, settled in Ohio in 1750 and was moved several more times.Congressional Legislation – Indian Removal Act of 1830
  3. Assimilation – It was necessary for American Indians to assimilate into American society to embrace the character of White Americans having to accept Christianity, culture, and tradition.
  4. Elimination – The American Indians did not want to give up their land and/or assimilate. The colonists would wage war on those who opposed. The Algonquin Indians of Jamestown in 1622, killed 347 settlers for land intrusion. Thereafter, the colonists began eliminating the Indians. By the 1700’s the British construed tribal sovereignty. The French however, remained loyal with border tribes and the French and Indian war began. At the end of the war, the British formed the Proclamation of 1763 – a boundary where white settlers cannot cross.

Federal Policies through the end of the 19th Century

Proclamation of 1763 – Because the Indians who fought with the French and lost the war, also lost their land.

The Northwest Ordinance- 1787 – Federal government would observe “”That utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed” except “in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress.”

Commerce Clause – Under the Constitution the Indians had the same relationship with U.S. Foreign nations and all relations between the United States and Indian nations must be conducted through treaties, where the Indian tribes sell or give their land to the federal government.

Indian Trade and Intercourse Act – 1790 – A Congressional act where nearly all interactions between Indians and non-Indians under federal control, not state would: *Establish the boundaries of Indian Country * Protect Indian lands against non Indian aggression * Subject trading with Indians to federal regulation * That injuries against Indians by Non-Indians was a federal crime * The conduct of Indians among themselves while in Indian country was left entirely to the tribes. These acts were renewed periodically until 1834.

Federal Indian Policies and Laws

  Removal Act of 1830 –  Jackson-mapFINAL-web   Gives the President (Andrew Jackson) the right to make land exchanges  by forcibly removing the five tribes from their ancestral lands against their will. The Choctaw  were first to leave making the journey by foot bound in chains with no food supplies or help from the government. The difficult and deadly journey expanded to multiple tribes and became known as “Trail of Tears”.        

Indian Trade Act of 1834 – The boundaries moved west of the Mississippi under the Act. By 1876, Indian country dwindled to what is now the state of Oklahoma, and Indian country waned to its final form. The actions of these policies benefited the non-Indian population. As European Americans moved westward they wanted all Indian land to the Pacific Ocean. Since the Indian nations were not giving up land willingly; The United States government signed multiple treaties that strengthened the United States Supreme Court decisions.

Dawes Act of 1887 – The Important Provisions of this Act are:

  • A head of the family would receive a grant of 160 acres, single under age of 18 would receive 80 acres, and under age 18, 40 acres.
  • The allotments would be held in trust by the United States government for 25 years.
  • Eligible Indians had 4 years to select their land but thereafter selection would be made by Secretary of the Interior.
  • A U.S. citizen would be granted by allocates, “who abandoned their tribes and adopted habits of civilized life”.
  • All land not allotted reverted to the control of the United States government and could be sold.
  • Dawes Act

Federal Indian Policy ~

Because of the large manifold of this topic to be shared the information I would like to share to be continued to my next post as part II.


” You have bought a fair land, but you will find its settlement dark and bloody” Dragging Canoe, leader of the Chickamauga, Sycamore Shoals, 1775


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