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This project will address the long and unpleasant history of Native American oppression at the hands of the United States government, specifically from the years 1877 to 1974. This topic will be discussed with specific focus on how the acts of the United States government resulted in the destruction of Native American culture as well as the activism that occurred during the 1970s.

The treatment of Native tribes in United States history clashes with the concept of the American ideals of freedom and liberty. It has been accepted by most currently living in the United States, that what happened to indigenous native peoples was not acceptable; however, few realize that many of these native peoples are still oppressed to this day. Additionally, there is hardly an ongoing conversation on the topic mostly due to the ever decreasing population of Native Americans as a percentage of the population. In 2010 the Census Bureau recorded that Native Americans make up less than 2% of the country’s people.[1] Being a politically insignificant group, Native Americans do not receive much support from politicians which has led them to be for the most part ignored by the government in recent years. This is why this topic is significant, Native groups do not receive the same sort of attention as other minorities, simply because they are such a minority. In order to address this topic and how the Native American situation became what it is, we must first address what lead to the current state of Native Tribes on reservations.

To give some context to the system that had been set up for Native Tribes, in 1851 Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which set up the reservation system.[2] This gave the Unites States government complete control over Native groups and their location and marked a change in policy by the United States from fighting Native Americans on the battleground, to fighting them in court. However, this did not stop the United States government from using force when Native groups seemed threatening.[3] As resources such as gold were discovered on Native American land or reservations, native tribes were constantly moved leaving their people unable to properly develop.[4] Even now that Native populations live on the fringes of society with much of their culture and traditions having been lost to assimilation, most native peoples live in poverty with many reservations being areas of immense inequality. In fact, two of the five poorest counties in the United States are located on Indian reservations [5]

Large scale activism for Native American rights did not occur in the United States until about the 1960s with the formation of AIM in 1964. [6] This was a 1960s-70s American Indian activist group that had fair amounts of success in terms of gaining public attention. This group orchestrated several public occupations in places such as Alcatraz and the Bureau of Interior in Washington D.C. Native American activism was often focused on obtaining sovereignty from the United States federal government as well as acquiring reparations for broken treaties. The taking back of Native Lands was an important part of the movement; however, activism still struggles to make substantial political gains for Native Americans.

The first period in this exhibit focuses on the period of 1877- 1900. In this period, the causes and effects of Native American oppression are first defined and explained. In the second period from 1900 – 1950, the assimilation of native Americans as a policy for dealing with Native tribes is investigated. Lastly, the third portion of this exhibit focuses on the activism present in the 1960s and 1970s. This will focus on first hand accounts of protests and their effects on enacting new policies for Native Americans.





[1]Tina Norris, Paula L. Vines, and Elizabeth M. Hoeffel, “The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010,”, 2010,

[2] Appropriation Bill for Indian Affairs, ch. 14, 9 Stat. 574, passed on February 27, 1851

[3] Ostler, Jeffrey. “Conquest and the State: Why the United States Employed Massive Military Force to Suppress the Lakota Ghost Dance.” Pacific Historical Review 65, no. 2 (1996): 217-48. doi:10.2307/3639984.

[4] State of California, “California Indian History: California Native American Heritage Commission,” Organization Title, accessed December 20, 2019,

[5] “The Poverty Cycle.” The Poverty Cycle | Running Strong. Accessed December 20, 2019.

[6]“American Indian Movement Advocates for Urban Indian Rights – Timeline – Native Voices,” U.S. National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health), accessed December 20, 2019,