Early History of Native American Oppression (1877 – 1900):
An Act to Provide for the Allotment of Lands in Severalty to Indians on the Various Reservations (General Allotment Act or Dawes Act)
The Dawes Act of 1887 was named after its author, Massachusetts Senator Henry Dawes. The act allowed reservations be broken up and given to registered members of each tribe by the President of the United States. This act had a dual purpose, to break up tribal governments through the allotment of tribal lands and to free up portions of reservations for settlement by white citizens eager to acquire land. One criticism of the Dawes Act is that native peoples were not the only ones given allotments of land. Once allotments had been given out to all the eligible Native Americans, additional land was sold by the United States government for settlement. This breaking up of tribal lands encouraged cultivation; however significant portions of the lands allowed to native Americans were in locations where successful cultivation of crops was nearly impossible. Additionally, most Native Americans lacked the necessary knowledge and capital required to even begin the process of cultivation. The federal government was essentially setting these Native tribes up for failure. This act was an an attempt to turn Native Americans, many of whom did not have any experience farming, away from traditional nomadic life and towards agriculture. The intended audience of this source was Native Americans who would be receiving allotments of land as well as white settlers who would be interested in moving west. Assimilation was clearly the goal of this act and many more policies to come.
Office of the Secretary of War, Report of the Secretary of War for 1891, General Nelson A. Miles
This document written by General Nelson A. Miles of the United States Army for the Office of the Secretary of War. The document details the causes of the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 that resulted in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. According to General Miles, this outbreak was the result of undelivered food supplies that were owed to the Sioux by the US federal government as payment for tribal lands. These goods were owed to the Sioux as detailed by the Treat of 1868 between the US federal government and the Sioux Indians of Standing Rock. Due to the overhunting of wild bison in the midwest, the Native American food supply had been diminished. This along with severely decreased territory for hunting, a result of reservation life, forced the native populations of Standing Rock to go to half rations which angered tribe members. Other complaints included poor soil quality which made farming nearly impossible.The United States had failed to return their side of the treaty and this led to increased feelings of hostility among the native population, a common theme with Native American treaties with the US government. At the time of this report, some Native Americans in many parts of the United States were participating in a new tribal tradition called the ghost dance. Practicers of the ghost dance believed the Native Americans were being punished for no longer practicing their old traditions. There was significant fear from United States government as well as American citizens that this would result in radicalization and conflict with the United States government and white settlers. This fear was argued to be the cause of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 where between 250-300 native people were killed, almost half of those killed were children. This source shows how many Native Americans were forced into selling their land to the United States government due to a decreased food supply, and that even following these agreements, the United States often fell through on its side of the bargain. The intended audience would be US government officials interested in the development in Native American affairs in the North East.
Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians
This speech given by the founder of the Carlisle Indian school, Richard H. Pratt, gives insight into the ideas that led to the creation of Indian boarding schools and the overall attempt by the U.S. government to Americanization native peoples. The author argues the man himself is worth saving; however, the Indian must die. In this way he is calling for the death of native culture in America. This shows a significant shift in policy from the use of military force to a policy of assimilation. This change in policy comes from a position of cultural superiority held by elite white government officials who believed Native Americans could be “fixed” through spreading Christianity to the native youth, a common belief of Christian nations in the west. The intended audience of this was likely white Americans interested in the United States reasoning for Native American boarding schools. This period of cultural assimilation resulted in the loss of Native America culture. Many Native American children were kept away from their cultural heritage and were deprived of their native languages for most of their youth. Overall, programs such as these did not consistently help Native Americans and are responsible for the destruction of Native American culture and traditions. Additionally, as will be discussed in the Mariam report in the following section, these schools were often understaffed, under supplied, and commonly places of abuse.