American Indian Sovereignty Matters

Back to the Colonial Era – Part II

Sovereignty Defined in Native Voice

Federal Indian Policies and Laws ~ continued

Boarding Schools – American Policymakers thought for Indians to really become assimilated, Indian children would have to be taken from their tribes and reeducated. In 1879 Colonel Richard Pratt created the first large Indian Boarding School. Federal authorities forced Indian parents to send their children to boarding schools in remote areas of Indian reservations. Not only were the children forced to adopt American ways they were:

  • Forbidden to speak their native language under threat and physical punishment.
  • Their long hair was cut off and the child was forced to renounce Indian origins.
  • Their clothing and moccasins were burned, boys had to wear military uniforms, girls tight Victorian dresses.
  • They were told to never use their Indian names and given American names.
  • They were forbidden to practice cultural or religious rituals and told to become devoted Christians under threats.
  • Their daily routine was by military drill and structure.
  • The catastrophic results of the schools caused American Indians’ loss of cultures and languages. Indian family life was disrupted and the children were not accepted in American society or able to regain Indian tradition.

BoardingSchool          BoardingSchool2

Boarding Schools –

Elimination – The logic for eliminating Indians developed out of the belief that Indian resistance was the same as a declaration of war against the U.S. Because of this belief the U.S. Army declared war on several tribes eliminating those that resisted and dominated survivors after conquering them. From 1776 to 1907 the U.S. Army committed 1,470 actions against Indians; not including other branches of the military. The vast majority occurred between 1866 and 1891 where about 948 soldiers were killed and 4,371 Indians eliminated.


Genocide ~ created from Greek word “genos” meaning race plus “cide” from Latin meaning to kill. Genocide involves actions with the intent to destroy in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, or economic group that included: Killing its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members, deliberately inflicting conditions of life to bring about the groups’ physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring its children to another group.

By the turn of the Twentieth Century American Indian population had been dramatically reduced by policies of the United States government. The American Indian  population prior to European contact was estimated between 6-10 million and reduced to 250,000 at the turn of the century. Land ownership had drastically declined. After the Dawes Act lands were further reduced by two-thirds. Indians in all nations had been reduced to membership within a domestic dependent semi-sovereign nation under the authority of  U.S. government. This became known as Genocide. Do any of these policies constitute Genocide?

The Opposition to Indian Removal

in 1829 Catherine Beecher, an activist petitioned opposition to the Indian Removal Act and influenced Congressman and Senators. Not only Beecher, but many well-known women became politically aware during the fight against Indian Removal. A petition opposing the Act in 1830 was primarily due to women publishing articles and circulating petitions. RemovalOppositionPetition

The women were not able to stop the enactment of the Indian Removal Act, but many women were empowered because of their efforts. Notably, women weren’t the only ones who opposed the act. Many Christian Missionaries, President Abraham Lincoln, Congressman Davey Crockett. The Act was ultimately passed after strong debate in Congress where opponents argument was the rights of Indian nations.


Martin Van Buren, Vice-President of Andrew Jackson quoted –  regarding the struggle: “(this issue) will in all probability endure…as long as the government itself, and will in time, (continue to) occupy the minds and feelings of our people.”

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