Sunday, January 17, 2016

American History 101: The Final Nail in the Native American Tribal Coffin

The active removal of the Native American people from their lands was not something that was new during the Gilded Age.  Even before the Revolutionary War, the colonists and British were constantly butting heads with the Indians over lands and resources.  When America entered the early nineteenth century the treatment of the natives continues on the path of minimizing the value of the heritage and history of the people.  From James Polk and John O’Sullivan’s Manifest Destiny push, to Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 that resulted in the Trail of Tears the nineteenth century was stacking up to be a very difficult century for Native Americans.  When The Dawes Act was passed in 1887 it represented the American Government’s attempt to assimilate the Native Americans into American society.  Instead of creating a people who happily wanted to be Americans and assume the American way of life, the American government effectively put the final nail in the coffin of the Native American heritage, history and any ability to remain culturally strong.

Historically speaking the European people who came to North America were always at odds with the Native Americans in one way or another.  While there were many peaceful interactions between the natives and colonists, there were just as many violent altercations that ended in loss of life on both sides.  The push for Americans to

continually expand westward and acquire new lands played against the natives, and as the boundaries of the American nation expanded the number of immigrants from Europe and Asia increased exponentially.  As a result of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Relocation Act of 1830, by 1850 nearly all of the Native American tribes lived west of the Mississippi River.  During the 1850’s the federal government continued to expand its efforts to control the Native Americans.  During this time, the government began the Indian Reservation system.  This system allowed the natives to claim their own tribal lands, protect their territories, govern themselves and still be safe from encroaching on areas where new settlers would be.  This policy was unpopular with the Natives Americans and their lack of willingness to assume the traits of Americans continued to make them unpopular with Americans.  In spite of its lack of popularity Reservations ensured the Native Americans would continue their heritage and culture in a way similar to what they were used to, only at the terms of others.  But instead of reservations resolving issues, it only served to magnify the problems and make it more evident that if America was to grow as Americans expected it to, the Native Americans could not exist the way they had before.

In response to the need for Americans wo continue to expand west, and remove the Indian problem, on February 8, 1887 President Grover Cleveland signed The Dawes Act into law.  The Dawes Act had six points that it sought to achieve, it was signed in order to: break up the tribes as a social unit, encourage individualism, create progress among native farmers, reduce the cost of the administration of the Native Americans, secure portions of reservations as new Indian land and reallot the remaining reservations lands to white settlers.  In essence, The Dawes Act offered the Native Americans free land and citizenship in exchange for moving them to new lands that they would own and control.  This assimilation attempt by the American government had a great impact on the Indian population.  There were many who took advantage of the offer and gave up their tribal lands in exchange for real ownership of land and American citizenship.  During this time period Native American controlled lands decreased from one hundred and forty million acres before The Dawes Act to a mere forty eight million acres in 1934.

The impact of the separation from the tribe had a long-term impact on the tribal structure and on the individuals themselves.  With lands now designated to the individual, instead of being communal lands, the division of the tribal unit was complete and the lure of citizenship and land ownership certainly encouraged individualism.  In addition to removing the tribal threat, as time wore on the people who were given the lands died off and left the property to their heirs which often split the land up even further.  Add to that the issue of severe poverty that often plagued the new land owners because of the poor quality of the land, the Indians would sell off their property to pay their debts.  The promise of Native American land ownership vaporized.  As land continually fell through the hands of the Indians they found themselves with no land, no tribe and no money.

The Dawes Act of 1887 was the first strike of the final nail in the coffin for the American Indian and their way of life.  In 1906 the law was amended so that the Secretary of the Interior could issue a patent on land to the family or the individual to own and work the land in perpetuity if they were deemed “competent.”  Unfortunately for the Native Americans, there was no definition of what competent meant and as such, the Secretary was left to make a judgment call on what that meant and once competency was determined the government could deny the patent and take the land.  The 1906 amendment may have been seen as an opportunity for Indians to hold on to land, but instead it allowed the government to relieve them of the burden of land ownership.  And this was the final nail in the coffin of the tribal Indian in America.

The Trail of Tears - 1830

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel

No comments:

Post a Comment