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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Discuss the problem of defining and maintaining an identity for the Native American in the United States and the SEVEN historical patterns that demonstrate the historical relationship between the white man and Native Americans.

The major problem the Native American has in society today is one of establishing an identity. The Native Americans remain probably some of the most misunderstood Americans of us all. They share no common native language and few common customs, but they do have some common traits. The treatment of the Native American during our past still affects the national conscience. We have been hampered by the history of our relationship with the Native American in our efforts to develop a fair national policy governing present and future treatment of Native Americans. Before a successful policy to work with the Native American, one must know the history of the Native American. The problem of identity for the Native American can best be demonstrated by the use of the word "Indian." What and who is an Indian?


There is no clear answer to this question, since different people apply different definitions. Generally, however, most definitions rest either upon a "cultural" or a "racial" basis, with the former being used most widely in Latin America and the latter. In Mexico, for example, people are very proud of being of native ancestry but do not consider themselves to be Native Americans unless they speak a native language and live in a native community. A Mexican of pure native descent or even a person of mixed racial descent participating fully in the Mexican national culture does not ordinarily think of himself as a Native American. In brief, from the Latin American perspective, to be a Native American is to live a Native way of life.


In the United States there is a tendency to define a person by his racial background rather than by his way of life. For example. the Federal government defines an "Indian" as a person of 1/4 or more United States Indian descent who resides upon Federal "trust land" (reservations) or who has preserved membership in a tribe occupying "trust land." The frustration with the term "Indian" can best be demonstrated with the following quote. "Even the name Indian is not ours. It was given to us by some dumb honky who got lost and thought he landed in India."


Everyone knows Columbus can be blamed for much of the confusion. Many Europeans avoided the problem for several centuries by ignoring Columbus' mistake. They referred to the Native Americans simply as Americans. But European emigrants came to appreciate the term American, applied it to themselves and reverted to Columbus' label. Conflict in cultures comprise one of the great barriers to any real

understand mg of the Native American and to his problem of adjustment to American society as it exist today.


In recent years there have been attempts to assimilate Native Americans into society with the idea of destroying everything that has been a part of their past culture and traditions. The result of these attempts to assimilate has been to create an unstable environment for the Native American. Consequently , this has made it impossible for the Native American to develop a gradual but consistent process by which they can gradually assimilate into our Western culture while at the same time preserving some of the basic foundations of their own culture, traditions and philosophy of life.


Two factors have contributed greatly to the cultural confusion of the Native American:


The first was the cultural dominance and undermining influence of Western culture. Western culture was so dominating and penetrating because of its technological base that it ended up undermining and polluting the Native American 's culture The desire for Western technology made him dependent on the benefits of that technology and therefore it was impossible for the Native American to preserve their own culture. The result of this rejection is isolation from and within Western culture and the loss of ability to preserve and determine his own identity. Native Americans are a people belonging to two cultures but belonging to neither completely.


The effects of this cultural conflict become apparent when studies the population figures for the Native American over the past 500 years. At the time of Columbus there were over 100 different tribes in the continental United States and the Native Americans numbered about 900,000 to 2,000, In 1910 the Native American population was 222,000 and has risen to over 2,000,000 at present. These figures show that the historical relationship between the white man and the Native American have not been very positive.


The Seven Historical Patterns



The first pattern: Attitude of Superiority


The pattern of the attitude of superiority was established early when the first contact of Native Americans and whites began with Christopher Columbus, who wrote that these Indians would make good servants . Hence, the history of native-white relations.commenced with the Europeans declaring of superiority over Natives.


The second pattern: Exploitation


The pattern of exploitation was first developed by the Spaniards who enslaved the Native Americans in the mission system and took them back to Europe as slaves. The French, English and Americans also participated in this pattern through the fur trade. By use of the fur trade practice, the Native Americans killed off their own wildlife which had been a basis of their culture for hundreds of years, in order to obtain products from whites and thus they became technological junkies . Because of this dependents upon white culture this in tum would lead to the destruction of their own culture. The fur trade practice is also an example of the cultural dominance and undermining influence of Western culture.


The extract the hides is another example of the great bison herds. Millions of animals had roamed the Plains, but their tough leather supplied industrial belting in eastern factories and raw material for the booming clothing industry. Specialized teams took down and skinned the herds. The infamous American bison slaughter peaked in the early 1870s. The number of American bison plummeted from over 10 million at mid-century to only a few hundred by the early 1880s. The expansion of the railroads would allow ranching to replace the bison with cattle on the American grasslands.3

The third pattern: Divide and Conquer


The pattern of divide and conquer is also an example of exploitation as the Europeans stimulated the natural conflicts between the Native in order to use them as allies in wars against other Europeans and Americans native tribes who sided with those Europeans . An example of this practice can be seen during the French and Indian War. The Iroquois were given 30 wagon loads of gifts, including guns, to keep them loyal to the British. At the same time the French were making use of the Algonquins against the British. A second and just as important example of divide and conquer will be discussed in detail when we discuss the concentrated reservation policy which developed.


The “Indian wars,” from the 1860s to 190, so mythologized in western folklore, were a series of sporadic, localized, and often brief engagements between U.S. military forces and various Native American groups. The more sustained and more impactful conflict, meanwhile, was economic and cultural. The vast and cyclical movement across the Great Plains to hunt buffalo, raid enemies, and trade goods was incompatible with new patterns of American settlement and railroad construction. Thomas Jefferson’s old dream that Indian groups might live isolated in the West was, in the face of American expansion, no longer a viable reality. Political, economic, and even humanitarian concerns intensified American efforts to isolate Indians on reservations. Although Indian removal had long been a part of federal Indian policy, following the Civil War the U.S. government redoubled its efforts. If treaties and other forms of persistent coercion would not work, more drastic measures were deemed necessary. Against the threat of confinement and the extinction of traditional ways of life, Native Americans battled the American army and the encroaching lines of American settlement.


The fourth pattern: Conflict Over Land


The fourth pattern of conflict over land developed soon after the British arrived in North America. Initially, both the British and Native

Americans were friendly and the Native Americans even taught the British how to raise com and other crops in order to survive. Thus, developed the "noble savage" image or stereotype which is an example of attitude of superiority and was first developed by Columbus. But the friendly spirit disappeared as the numerical of whites increased and the British sought to remove the Native Americans from their land. As conflict over territorial expansion developed, the image of the Native American changed from the "noble savage" to the "brutal savage," without civilization or religion, who did not believe in private property, the Christian God, or the power of the king of England.


Cultural Naturalism was used as the justification to remove the Native American from his land. For example the Puritans justified the seizure of native lands with the Book of Genesis: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." Thus, the Massachusetts General Court declared in 1652, "Indians within this jurisdiction have just right there to" only those lands they have "by possession or improvement." Most Puritans considered the Bible-based policy not only divinely inspired, but also just and fair. John Winthrop concluded: "If we leave them sufficient land for their own use, we may lawfully take the rest, there being more than enough for them and us."


In one of the earliest western engagements, in 1862, while the Civil War still consumed the nation, tensions erupted between Dakota Sioux and white settlers in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory. The 1850 U.S. census recorded a white population of about 6,000 in Minnesota; eight years later, when it became a state, it was more than 150,000.8 The influx of American farmers pushed the Sioux to the breaking point. Hunting became unsustainable and those Sioux who had taken up farming found only poverty. Starvation wracked many. Then, on August 17, 1862, four young men of the Santees, a Sioux tribe, killed five white settlers near the Redwood Agency, an American administrative office. In the face of an inevitable American retaliation, and over the protests of many members, the tribe chose war. On the following day, Sioux warriors attacked settlements near the Agency. They killed 31 men, women and children. They then ambushed a U.S. military detachment at Redwood Ferry, killing 23. The governor of Minnesota called up militia and several thousand Americans waged war against the Sioux insurgents. Fighting broke out at New Ulm, Fort Ridgely, and Birch Coulee, but the Americans broke the Indian resistance at the Battle of Wood Lake on September 23, ending the so-called Dakota War, also known as the Sioux Uprising.9


More than two thousand Sioux had been taken prisoner during the fighting. Many were tried at federal forts for murder, rape, and other atrocities. 303 were found guilty and sentenced to hang, but at the last moment President Lincoln commuted all but 38 of the sentences. Terrified Minnesota settlers and government officials insisted not only that the Sioux lose much of their reservations lands and be removed further west, but that those who had fled be hunted down and placed on reservations as well. The American military gave chase and, on September 3, 1863, after a year of attrition, American military units surrounded a large encampment of Dakota Sioux. American troops killed an estimated 300 men, women, and children. Dozens more were taken prisoner. Troops spent the next two days burning winter food and supply stores to starve out the Sioux resistance, which would continue to smolder.Further south, tensions flared in Colorado. In 1851, the Treaty of Fort Laramie had secured right-of-way access for Americans passing through on their way to California and Oregon. But a gold rush in 1858 drew approximately 100,000 white goldseekers and they demanded new treaties be made with local Indian groups to secure land rights in the newly created Colorado Territory. Cheyenne bands splintered over the possibility of signing a new treaty that would confine them to a reservation. Settlers, already wary of raids by powerful groups of Cheyennes, Arapahos, and Comanches, meanwhile read in their local newspapers sensationalist accounts of the Sioux uprising in Minnesota. Militia leader John M. Chivington warned settlers in the summer of 1864 that the Cheyenne were dangerous savages, urged war, and promised a swift military victory. Sporadic fighting broke out. Although Chivington warned of Cheyenne savagery, the aged Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, believing that a peace treaty would be best for his people, traveled to Denver to arrange for peace talks. He and his followers traveled toward Fort Lyon in accordance with government instructions but on November 29, 1864, Chivington ordered his seven hundred militiamen to move on the Cheyenne camp near Fort Lyon at Sand Creek. The Cheyenne tried to declare their peaceful intentions but Chivington’s militia cut them down. It was a slaughter. Black Kettle and about two hundred other men, women, and children were killed.10


The Sand Creek Massacre was a national scandal, alternately condemned and applauded. News of the massacre reached other native groups and the American frontier erupted into conflict. Americans pushed for a new “peace policy.” Congress, confronted with these tragedies and further violence, authorized in 1868 the creation of an Indian Peace Commission. The commission’s study of American Indian decried prior American policy and galvanized support for reformers. After the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant the following spring, Congress allied with prominent philanthropists to create the Board of Indian Commissioners, a permanent advisory body to oversee Indian affairs and prevent the further outbreak of violence. The Board effectively Christianized American Indian policy. Much of the reservation system was handed over to Protestant churches, which were tasked with finding agents and missionaries to manage reservation life. Congress hoped that religiously-minded men might fare better at creating just assimilation policies and persuading Indians to accept them. Historian Francis Paul Prucha believed that this attempt at a new “peace policy… might just have properly been labelled the ‘religious policy.’”11


The fifth pattern: Land Acquisition by Treaty


Pattern number five, land acquisition by treaty. developed under the new government of the United States as an attempted solution to settle

the problems that developed as a result of pattern number four.


In 1784, the nation's first treaty with the Native Americans was negotiated at Fort Stanwix with the Iroquois, who agreed to relinquish their claims to part of western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The treaty set the pattern for Native American affairs until (after 1871 called agreements) 1887. Treaties that took advantage of Native Americans were negotiated with use of inadequate interpreters the peace treaty councils, alcohol at treaty councils, and unrepresentative signers.



As the pattern of conflict over land continued to develop, treaties showed themselves as mere stop-gap measures as eventually settlers would invade onto the land designated for the natives, ignoring their rights, and I

would try to move them off.


When conflict ensued, the settlers demanded military protection. This process started in 1791 in the Northwest territory and continued up until the 1870's in the Black Hills, when Custer was asked to go in and protect the gold seekers who were mining on the Sioux reservation.


The sixth pattern: Isolation


After pattern five showed itself to be only temporary, pattern six, isolation, developed in 1830 with the passage of the Indian Removal Act.


The Indian Removal Act of empowered the President to exchange land west of the Mississippi for territory east of the river that was held by Native Americans. By 1850 most of the surviving eastern tribes or about 92,664 Native Americans were in locations beyond the Mississippi. With this new Indian Removal Act the federal government initiated a new policy, the reservation system, and established another pattern of isolation by use of the reservation system.


The purpose of this policy was to create "ONE BIG RESERVATION" out of the central grasslands (the Great American Desert , as it was sometimes called) which everyone knew at the time was unusable for farming as practiced east of the Mississippi. The Indian Removal Act primarily affected the powerful nations of the Southeast or the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and the Seminoles) as they were called. The implementation of the this policy produced one of the most tragic and disappointing chapters in American History: The Trail of Tears in 1838


The justification of the act by whites was the superiority of a farming over a hunting culture. The ideals of a savage society are built around the HUNT and WARFARE and its members can develop no further, no higher, than their lifestyle will let them.


Such a rationalization had one serious weakness. The farmer's right of eminent domain over the lands of the savage could be asserted consistently only so long as the tribes involved were "savages." However, the Southeastern tribes were agriculturists as well as hunters and had been for two generations prior to the Indian Removal Act.


The Cherokee nation, located within the state of Georgia, demonstrates this point well. They had developed their own written language along with a constitution, a legal system which included a bicameral legislature, and a judicial system. With Georgia's growing population and the need for more fertile land, plus the discovery of gold on Cherokee land in 1828, the state of Georgia decided the natives must go. Between 1828-31 the Georgia legislature fought attempts by the Cherokees to organize their own government and claimed the

.Cherokees as her subjects and tenants-at-will. In 1832 when Chief Justice Marshall and the Supreme Court ruled in Worcester v. Georgia that the laws of Georgia had no force in Cherokee territory, President Jackson is said to have remarked, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."


By December 1835, about 400 (many of them were mixed-bloods or white men who had married into the tribe) of the more than 18,000 Cherokee showed up at a tribal meeting to vote on a treaty that paid $5 million plus a section of land in Indian territory in modem-day Oklahoma for ALL their lands east of the Mississippi. The treaty was approved by a vote of 75 to 7 with a statement posted before the meeting that any tribe member who did not attend would be counted as voting in agreement with whatever might be decided. This represents a good example of unrepresentative signers in dealing with the Native Americans on treaty negotiations.


However, the advance of the mining and transportation frontiers launched a new conflict over lqnd. The mass migrations across the Plains, the development of freighting and express lines, and the plans for transcontinental railroads, all demonstrated during the early 1850's that the policy of "ONE BIG RESERVATION" was destined for a speedy extinction.


The treaty allowed two years from (December, 1835,) the date of ratification before the tribe had to be gone. By May of 1838, only some 2,000 Cherokees had left. The rest, close to 16,000, simply went about their ordinary business. Consequently, some 7,000 soldiers were used to round up every Cherokee man, woman and child to transport them during the winter of 1838 to present day Oklahoma. On the journey which is called "The Trail of Tears" it is estimated that close to 4,000 Cherokees, or about 114 of the tribe, had died or were missing at journey's end.


Although the Indian Removal Act had its negative side such as "The Trail of Tears," there was also a positive side. So long as the United States held to the concept "ONE BIG RESERVATION" the two races could live in peace and the natives could more easily preserve their culture.

The frontier pressure for a highway forced the United States to abandon its policy of "ONE BIG RESERVATION" for a system of "CONCENTRATED RESERVATIONS" which led directly to war.


The first step in applying the new policy of "CONCENTRATED RESERVATIONS" was taken in 1851 when chiefs of the principle Plains tribes were assembled at Ft. Laramie. In return for gifts and annuities the natives agreed to this policy of divide and conquer and to accept definite tribal limitations. For example, the Sioux were assured of keeping the Dakota country north of the Platte River.


The natives were told they could live unmolested for all time, each tribe secure in the knowledge its lands were clearly defined. But this phase was

only acceptable to the whites until gold, silver, oil, or some other valuable use for the reservation land developed.


This reoccurring problem of conflict over land can best be demonstrated with the gold rush in the Black Hills on the Sioux reservation in the early 1870's. Under the Ft. Laramie treaty of 1851 and a later Treaty of 1868. The Black Hills lay within the boundaries of the Sioux reservation. Considered worthless by the government at that time, the area had become both a sacred place and a prime hunting ground for the Sioux.

By 1872, miners had begun moving into the region in search of gold, openly violating the treaty. Within two years the talk of gold in the Black Hills reached such proportions that numerous parties of prospectors entered the region, despite efforts by the army to keep them out.

Native Americans, on and off the reservation, were angered over this invasion of their sacred land. Hence, in September, 1875, a commission from Washington met with some 20,000 Cheyennes, Sioux, and Arapahos. The commissioners first tried to purchase the Black Hills outright for $6 million; then they attempted to buy the mineral rights for $400,000 a year. Both offers were firmly rejected.


By this time, the treaty was being repeatedly broken by both sides as the natives resumed raiding along the frontier. Washington officials now viewed the natives in this area not only as a menace to the frontier but as a potential threat to the entire reservation system. So the Commissioner of Indian Affairs sent word to the Sioux, northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho to return to their reservations or "military force would be used." The result of this "military force" was the Battle of the Little Bighorn were George Custer and 264 of his men were killed in what remains a milestone in the history of native resistance to white domination. At the time of the victory it shocked the nation and forced the army to redouble its efforts against the natives. As sensational as the victory was, in the long run it did the Lakota little good as they were forced by hunger to surrender in 1881.



The seventh pattern: Assimilation


Pattern seven, assimilation. developed when there was no longer any more land on which to isolate the Native American.

In 1887 a new policy and pattern were introduced with the passage of the Dawes Act. According to this act, the President could allot reservation land individually to the natives, the title to be held in trust by the United for 25 years.


After the 25 year period, full citizenship would accompany the allotment. Heads of families were to receive 160 acres and a single individual would get 80 acres. The surplus, after the natives had been taken care of, was to be sold by the government or would be used for national parks.


The Dawes Act was an attempt to assimilate the Native American into our culture by completely isolatin him from his own culture and forcing him to find his identity within our society. Part of the significance of the act is that it revealed at this late date the white man's lack of understanding of the Native American and his values on individual ownership of land. Even if the natives wanted to become farmers, much of the land was unfit for subsistence farming. THE DAWES ACT WAS A HUGE MISTAKE, BUT IT REMAINED THE MAJOR POLICY FOR DEALING WITH THE NATIVE AMERICANS UNTIL 1933.


In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act introduced a new policy which brought an end to the allotment policy. The new act encouraged tribal self-government, extended financial credit to the tribes, began an improvement of education and medical facilities, and promoted a revival of native culture. The act did not mean that assimilation was forgotten, but that the natives could move toward assimilation more at their own pace.


In 1953, as a result of the slowness of assimilation and taxpayer unrest at having to pay for services guaranteed to the natives, the Eisenhower administration brought a sudden end to the Indian Reorganization Act with a new policy which was called TERMINATION.


TERMINATION and RELOCATION was an attempt to isolate the Native American by having Congress terminate federal responsibility for Native American tribes, settling all outstanding claims of the tribes against the United States, concluding treaties and concessions to tribes living on the reservations, and eradicating tribal governments which the Indian Reorganization Act.


This would lead to the assimilation of the Native American into the dominant western society and thus erase tribal culture and enable the federal government to terminate its relationship with the Native American. In 1954, Congress subsequently adopted a series of laws implementing the policy of TERMINATION. Thus between 1954 and 1962 Congress stripped 61 tribes, groups, and bands of federal

services and protection


The TERMINATION policy was also augmented by a program called relocation. Many natives were screened, and those judged best suited to survive in the cities were sent off the reservation to be assimilated into America's cities. Some natives were successfully relocated and fit well into the white urban world. Others returned to the reservation or remained jobless and homeless in the city.


The policy of TERMINATION remained in force in one form or another until 1970. Its greatest contribution to native welfare was that it eventually produced such an intensively negative public reaction it brought about policy changes which promised fulfillment through the Indian Reorganization Act goals of ethnic restoration.


In 1970, President Nixon repudiated the policy of termination in support of a new policy of "self determination."


Part Two: Listen to this radio story of how Native Americans through the Carlisle Indian School were attempted to be assimilated into the dominate American culture through American Football.


Describe the process and history. Explain why "it was more than just a game" for those students.


Click Here to Listen to the Story: American Football