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Key American Policies Towards Native Americans

1828 - Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia - In 1828 the Cherokee, a "civilized" tribe who had lived in peace working as farmers, building houses and roads found gold on their land. As a result white settlers moved in and the State of Georgia claimed jurisdiction over the Cherokee. The Cherokee sued claiming they were independent from Georgia. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee. The victory was short lived, however, as President Andrew Jackson in response to the Courts decision is reputed to have said, "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." Instead the federal government removed the Indians to Oklahoma.

1830 - Indian Removal Act - This act authorized the President to negotiate treaties and remove the remaining Eastern Indians to lands west of the Mississippi. Under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, federal agents again used threats, bribes and liquor to secure Indian consent to one sided treaties. The federal government removed thousands of Indians, some in chains, on a trip marked by hunger, disease and death. This became known as the "trail of tears." By the late 1840's almost all native Americans had been moved to lands west of the Mississippi.

 1860 - 1890's - Plains Indians Wars - During this period Americans and plains Indians clashed as Americans attempted to force Indians onto reservations. The battles are highlighted by the Battle of Little Bighorn, where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his regiment of 250 where all killed by approximately 4500 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors and the battle at Wounded Knee where thousands of Cheyenne men, women and children were slaughtered by the American Calvary. Wounded Knee represented the end of any real armed resistance on the part of the Native American.

 1887 - The Dawes Act - The act provided for the following:

1. Each Indian family head be allotted a 160 acre farm out of reservation lands.

2. Each new land owner who abandoned tribal practices and adopted the "habits of civilized life" would be granted American citizenship.

3. "Surplus" reservation lands would be made available to sell to white settlers.

The Dawes Act, while well intentioned, did not benefit the Indians. The lands they were assigned were poor and the concept of "Americanization" led to a destruction of Indian culture and the destruction of the traditional status of Indian women in tribal life. Finally, as a result of the "surplus" land provision the Indians lost 90 million out of 140 acres of reservation land.

 1953 - Termination Policy - This was a new sharply different policy that ended the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and all of the programs that went with it. It divided tribal property among the tribes members thus subjecting them to taxation. It also curtailed tribal self government and relocated many Indians to the cities where jobs were available. The Termination policy also ended federal responsibility and social services - education, health and welfare, to the Indians.

 1980's - Several Indian nations, most notably in Connecticut and New York, sue to gain autonomy (independence) on tribal reservation land. Indians win these cases paving the way for the creation of gambling operations on reservation land. Today there are casinos on several reservations providing millions of dollars of income for those tribes.


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