Early European colonization of North America, 1513-1600
European contact with indigenous societies in the Americas found widely divergent cultures struggling to understand and sometimes dominate each other. Conflicts and misunderstandings often resulted in violence. Europeans believed themselves on a civilizing or dominating mission, helped by their gun technology. Where they settled in number, they coerced the labor of indigenous people. Most peoples believe their culture and people superior to all others; the indigenous societies and Europeans were no different.
Juan Ponce de León was considered the first European to reach the lands which would become the United States, reaching present-day Florida in 1513. Further expeditions by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1528), Hernando de Soto(1538-42) and others explored Florida and southeastern North America. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's expedition (1540-1542), which began in New Spain (Mexico), reached as far north as present-day Kansas.
These expeditions led to clashes between the Spaniards and Native Americans and many of them ended with the destruction of the explorers. Yet these expeditions had lasting results.
The Europeans made a substantial foothold in Florida. Horses were introduced. Native Americans readily learned to ride them and use them for transportation and hauling, which positively affected their ability to hunt and travel with game.
Lastly, and most significantly, small pox and other infectious diseases were passed on to indigenous populations by contact. Because they had no immunity to such diseases, Native populations suffered high rates of fatalities and epidemics. , passed by both men and livestock, were introduced to the Native populations.
By the time European settlement became more extensive in the 1600s, large portions of the Native population had already been destroyed.
British colonization of North America began with the settlement of St. John's, Newfoundland as early as 1497. It officially became England's first colony in 1583. The abandoned Roanoke Colony (1585/1587) was the only other official colony until the early Seventeenth century, when a number of new colonies were founded, includingJamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the United States.
French colonization of North America began in c.1524 when King Francis I sent Giovanni da Verrazzano in search of a northern route to the Pacific Ocean. After failed attempts in 1564 and 1598 the first successful French colony wasAcadia, established in 1604.
Europeans and Native Americans in North America, 1601-1776
Britain, as the dominant power after the French and Indian War, instituted the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The document set a boundary separating the Native American country from that of the European community. In part, this justified complete control of lands on the European side, but did not effectively prevent individual Europeans from continuing to migrate westward.
As in the past, military/diplomatic and economic force was applied by Europeans and European governments to secure control of more territories from Native Americans. For further information see European colonization of the Americas.
The United States and Native Americans, 1776-1860
The United States continued the use of Native Americans as allies, including during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. As relations with England and Spain normalized during the early 1800s, the need for such friendly relations ended. It was no longer necessary to "woo" the tribes to prevent the other powers from using them against the United States. Now, instead of a buffer against other "civilized" foes, the tribes often became viewed as an obstacle in the expansion of the United States.
1. impartial justice toward Native Americans
2. regulated buying of Native American lands
3. promotion of commerce
4. promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society
5. presidential authority to give presents
6. punishing those who violated Native American rights.
The United States appointed agents, like Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Native Americans and to teach them how to live like whites.
|“||How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America - This opinion is probably more convenient than just.||”|
—-Henry Knox to George Washington, 1790s.
While it did not authorize the forced removal of the indigenous tribes, it authorized the President to negotiate land exchange treaties with tribes located in lands of the United States. The Intercourse Law of 1834 prohibited United States citizens from entering tribal lands granted by such treaties without permission, though it was often ignored.
While the Indian Removal Act made the relocation of the tribes voluntary, it was often abused by government officials. The best-known example is the Treaty of New Echota. It was negotiated and signed by a small faction of Cherokee tribal members, not the tribal leadership, on December 29, 1835. It resulted in the forced relocation of the tribe in 1838. An estimated 4,000 Cherokees died in the march, now known as the Trail of Tears.
Office of Indian Affairs
In 1854 Commissioner George W. Manypenny called for a new code of regulations. He noted that there was no place in the West where the Indians could be placed with a reasonable hope that they might escape molestation by white settlers. He also called for the Intercourse Law of 1834 to be revised, as its provisions had been aimed at individual intruders on Indian territory rather than at organized expeditions.
In 1858 succeeding Commissioner Charles Mix noted that the repeated removal of tribes had prevented them from acquiring a taste for civilization. In 1862 Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith questioned the wisdom of treating tribes as quasi-independent nations. Given the difficulties of the government in what it considered good efforts to support separate status for Native Americans, it began to consider a policy of Americanization instead.
Americanization and assimilation (1880-1920)
Gradually the call for change was taken up by Eastern reformers. Many of the reformers were Protestant Christians who considered assimilation necessary to the Christianizing of the Indians. The nineteenth century was a time of major efforts in evangelizing missionary expeditions to all non-Christian people.
In 1865 the government began to make contracts with various missionary societies to operate Indian schools for teaching citizenship, English, and agricultural and mechanical arts.
They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination".
Within this brief excerpt of the State of the Union, the "American" view of the Native Americans is evident. Grant proposed a peace policy: land west of Arkansas and Missouri and south of Kansas was given to the Native Americans in 1830 and called "Indian Territory".
Yet, this policy was not adhered to, as the United States began to confiscate the western portions of the Indian Territory and began to resettle the Native Americans who lived there. In 1889, Congress authorized the opening for homestead settlement of land seized from the Indian Territory. A year later Congress passed an act that officially created the Oklahoma Territory from that land.
The Role of the Supreme Court in Assimilation
This idea is applied to Native Americans in a quote from Indian Affairs Commissioner John Oberly: "[The Native American] must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’, and ‘This is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours’." Progressives also had a faith in the knowledge of experts.
This was a dangerous idea to have when an emerging science was concerned with ranking races based on moral capabilities and intelligence. Indeed, the idea of an inferior Indian race made it into the courts.
The progressive era thinkers also wanted to look beyond legal definitions of equality to create a realistic concept of fairness. Such a concept was thought to include a reasonable income, decent working conditions, as well as health and leisure for every American.
These ideas can be seen in the decisions of the Supreme Court during the assimilation era.
One of the basic decisions that had to be made in most of these cases was how to classify the Indian nations and what rights they were to have. Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock provides an excellent example of the implementation of the paternal view of Native Americans as it refers back to the idea of Indians as "wards of the nation."
Some other issues that came into play were the hunting and fishing rights of the natives, especially when land beyond theirs affected their own practices, whether or not Constitutional rights necessarily applied to Indians, and whether tribal governments had the power to establish their own laws.
As new legislation tried to force the American Indians into becoming just Americans, the Supreme Court provided these critical decisions. Native American nations were labeled "domestic dependent nations" by Marshall in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, one of the first landmark cases involving Indians. Some decisions focused more on the dependency of the tribes, while others preserved tribal sovereignty, while still others sometimes managed to do both.
Decisions Focusing on Dependence
United States v. Kagama
"The power of the general government over these remnants of a race once powerful, now weak and diminished in numbers, is necessary to their protection, as well as to the safety of those among whom they dwell.
It must exist in that government, because it never has existed anywhere else; because the theater of its exercise is within the geographical limits of the United [118 U.S. 375, 385] States; because it has never been denied; and because it alone can enforce its laws on all the tribes."
The decision in United States v. Kagama led to the new idea that "protection" of Native Americans could justify intrusion into intratribal affairs. The Supreme Court and Congress were given unlimited authority with which to force assimilation and acculturation of Native Americans into American society.
United States v. Nice
The quick reversal shows how law concerning American Indians often shifts with the changing governmental and popular views of American Indian tribes.
The outcome of this case was the continued practice of congress prohibiting the sale of liquor to American Indians. This outcome further promoted the idea that American Indian nations could not be entirely independent, and needed a guardian to protect them.
United States v. Sandoval
The Sandoval Act reversed the U.S. v. Joseph decision of 1876 which claimed that the Pueblos were not considered federal Indians and oppositely claimed that the Pueblos were “not beyond the range of congressional power under the Constitution.”
This case resulted in congress continuing to prohibit the sale of liquor to American Indians. In relation to dependence, the ruling serves to promote the idea that American Indians need a guardian for protection
Decisions Focusing on Sovereignty
There were several United States Supreme Court cases during the assimilation era that focused on the sovereignty of American Indian nations. These cases were extremely important in setting precedents for later cases and for legislation dealing with the sovereignty of American Indian nations.
Ex Parte Crow Dog (1883)
The convict argued that the district court did not have the jurisdiction to try him for a crime committed between two American Indians that happened on an American Indian reservation.
The court found that even though the reservation was located within the territory covered by the district court's jurisdiction, Rev. Stat. § 2146 precluded the inmate's indictment in the district court. Section 2146 stated that Rev. Stat. § 2145, which made the criminal laws of the United States applicable to Indian country, did not apply to crimes committed by one Indian against another or to crimes for which an Indian was already punished by the law of his tribe.
The Court issued the writs of habeas corpus and certiorari to the inmate.
Talton v. Mayes (1896)
It reaffirmed earlier decisions, such as the 1831 Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case, that gave Indian tribes the status of "domestic dependent nations," the sovereignty of which is independent of the federal government. Talton v. Mayes is also a case dealing with Native American dependence, as it deliberated over and upheld the concept of congressional plenary authority.
This part of the decision led to some important pieces of legislation concerning Native Americans, the most important of which is the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968]
Montoya v. United States (1901)
After the hearing, the Supreme Court held that the judgment made previously in the Court of Claims would not be changed. This is to say that the Mescalero Apache American Indian tribe would not be held accountable for the actions of Victoria's Band.
This outcome demonstrates not only the sovereignty of American Indian tribes from the United States, but also their sovereignty from one another.
One group of American Indians can not be held accountable for the actions of another group of American Indians, even though they are all part of the American Indian nation.
Choate v. Trapp
US v. Winans (1905)
Further, the case established two important principles regarding the interpretation of treaties. First, treaties would be interpreted in the way Indians would have understood them and "as justice and reason demand." Second, the Reserved Rights Doctrine was established which states that treaties are not rights granted to the Indians, but rather “a reservation by the Indians of rights already possessed and not granted away by them.”
These "reserved" rights, meaning never having been transferred to the United States or any other sovereign, include property rights, which include the rights to fish, hunt and gather, and political rights. Political rights reserved to the Indian nations include the power to regulate domestic relations, tax, administer justice, or exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction.
Winters v. United States (1908)
This case dealt with the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and their right to utilize the water source of the Milk River in Montana. The reservation had been created without clearly stating the explicit water rights that the Fort Belknap American Indian reservation had.
This became a problem once non-Indian settlers began moving into the area and using the Milk River as a water source for their settlements. As Montana is out west where water sources are extremely sparse and limited, this argument of who had the legal rights to use the water was presented.
After the case was tried, the Supreme Court came to the decision that the Fort Belknap reservation had reserved water rights through the 1888 agreement which had created the American Indian Reservation in the first place.
This United States Supreme court case was very important in setting a precedent for cases after the assimilation era. It was used as a precedent for the cases Arizona v. California, Tulee v. Washington, Washington v. McCoy, Nevada v. United States, Cappaert v. United States, Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, United States v. New Mexico, and Arizona v. San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona which all focused on the sovereignty of American Indian tribes.
Clairmont v. United States (1912)
The defendant's appeal stated that the district court lacked jurisdiction because the offense for which he was convicted did not occur in American Indian country. The defendant had been arrested while traveling on a train that had just crossed over from American Indian country.
The defendant's argument held and the Supreme Court reversed the defendant's conviction remanding the cause to the district court with directions to quash the indictment and discharge defendant.
United States v. Quiver (1916)
This decision was made because of the fact that the offense occurred on a Sioux Indian reservation which is not said to be under jurisdiction of the district court. The United States Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court saying that the adultery was not punishable as it had occurred between two American Indians on an American Indian reservation.
Good Shot v. United States (1900)
In an effort to argue against the Supreme Court having jurisdiction over the proceedings, the defendant filed a petition seeking a writ of certiorari. This request for judicial review, upon writ of error, was denied. The court held that a conviction for murder, punishable with death, was no less a conviction for a capital crime by reason even taking into account the fact that the jury qualified the punishment. The American Indian defendant was sentenced to life in prison.
Suppression of Religion
The goal of the United States Government was to get Native Americans to assimilate to their culture. Some called this "making apples", as the Indians would still appear 'red' on the outside, but would be made 'white' on the inside.
Even in the 20th century, "spiritual leaders ran the risk of jail sentences of up to 30 years for simply practicing their rituals". It was not until 1973 that the law changed, when the Freedom of Religion Act was passed, although the government had stopped prosecuting Native American spiritual leaders.
Different traditions continued to cause problems. For instance, the government included peyote among strong drugs that were illegal on the open market because of its hallucinogenic properties and general problems with drug abuse.
But, the Peyote Indians traditionally had used peyote cactus as central to their religious rituals and practices, where use took place within orderly structures.
It was not until the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act of 1993 was passed that the Peyote Indians could lawfully again use the peyote cactus in their religious celebrations]
Native American education and boarding schools
Non-reservation boarding schools
When released, several were sponsored by American church groups to attend institutions such as Hampton Institute. He believed education was the means to bring American Indians into society.
Pratt professed "assimilation through total immersion." Because he had seen men educated at schools like Hampton Institute become educated and assimilated, he believed the principles could be extended to Indian children.
Immersing them in the larger culture would help them adapt. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, the Carlisle curriculum was modeled on the many industrial schools: it constituted vocational training for boys and domestic science for girls, in expectation of their opportunities on the reservations, including chores around the school and producing goods for market.
In the summer, students were assigned to local farms and townspeople for boarding and to continue their immersion. They also provided labor at low cost, at a time when many children earned pay for their families.
Officials coerced parents into releasing a quota of students from any given reservation.
Once the new students arrived at the boarding schools, their lives altered drastically. They were usually given new haircuts, uniforms of European-American style clothes, and even new English names, sometimes based on their own, other times assigned at random.
They could no longer speak their own languages, even with each other. They were expected to attend Christian churches. Their lives were run by the strict orders of their teachers, and it often included grueling chores and stiff punishments.
Additionally, infectious disease was widespread in society, and often swept through the schools. This was due to lack of information about causes and prevention, inadequate sanitation, insufficient funding for meals, overcrowded conditions, and students whose resistance was low.
Especially given the young age of some of the children sent to the schools, they have been documented as traumatic experiences for many of the children who attended them. They were generally forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity instead of their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Indian identity and adopt European-American culture.
Tragically, many cases of mental and sexual abuse have been documented, as in North Dakota.
By 1923 in the Northwest, most Indian schools had closed and Indian students were attending public schools. States took on increasing responsibility for their education. Other studies suggest attendance in some Indian boarding schools grew in areas of the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century, doubling from 1900 to the 1960s. Enrollment reached its highest point in the 1970s.
In 1973, 60,000 American Indian children were estimated to have been enrolled in an Indian boarding school.
The Meriam Report of 1928
- abolishing the "Uniform Course of Study", which taught only majority European-American cultural values;
- having younger children attend community schools near home, though older children should be able to attend non-reservation schools; and
- ensuring that the Indian Service provided Native Americans with the skills and education to adapt both in their own traditional communities (which tended to be more rural) and the larger American society.
Change to community schools
In 2007, 9,500 American Indian children lived in an Indian boarding school dormitory. From 1879 when the Carlisle Indian School was founded to the present day, more than 100,000 American Indians are estimated to have attended an Indian boarding school.
Lasting effects of the Americanization policy
Often Native Americans are perceived as having been assimilated. However, some Native Americans feel a particular sense of being from another society or do not belong in a primarily "white" European majority society, despite efforts to socially integrate them.
In the mid-20th century, as efforts were still under way for assimilation, some studies treated American Indians simply as another ethnic minority, rather than citizens of semi-sovereign entities which they are entitled to by treaty.
The following quote from the May 1957 issue of Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, shows this:
- "The place of Indians in American society may be seen as one aspect of the question of the integration of minority groups into the social system."
Since the 1960s-1970s, however, there have been major changes in society. Included is a broader appreciation for the pluralistic nature of United States society and its many ethnic groups, as well as for the special status of Native American nations.
More recent legislation to protect Native American religious practices, for instance, points to major changes in government policy. Similarly the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 was another recognition of the special nature of Native American culture and federal responsibility to protect it.