Address of Hon. William A. Jones, Commissioner of Indian Affairs

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I asked General Whittlesey to read to you the resume of the work done by the Indian Office during the last year, as he had already been furnished by the office with data bearing on the subject. However, upon listening to the reading of his paper I notice one important omission of what has been done, and that is the inauguration of a system for keeping records of marriages, births, and deaths. This I consider one of the most important steps taken for some time, and it was largely owing to the persistent efforts of Dr. Gates, secretary of the board of Indian commissioners. This system is as nearly complete as we could make it under existing conditions. While it does not have the force of a statute, it is a great step in advance, and if faithfully adhered to by the agents it will answer all immediate necessities.

An effort will be made during the coming session of Congress to have some law enacted embodying the principal features of this system. Very many of the agents have indorsed their approval and are doing their utmost to carry out faithfully the instructions issued. Some have written in somewhat of a discouraging spirit as to their ability to enforce these regulations, but I feel sure that, after they have once started, good results will be obtained.

Before entering upon any general discussion of the Indian question, I would like to impose upon your time for a few minutes in order to reply to some questions that I understand were asked at a former meeting of this session.

I have been told that there has been some discussion concerning the leasing of some portions of the Sioux Reservation, and some implied criticism was made as to the policy of the office.

I do not want to shirk the responsibility for this policy, as it was inaugurated by me after a full investigation of the conditions that existed upon the Sioux Reservation, and after testing it for the last eight or ten months I am more than ever convinced of its advisability. I want to state at the outset that I am utterly opposed to leasing allotments except in rare cases, where the allottee is totally unable to work his own land; but there is a vast difference between leasing allotments and leasing tribal lands. As a matter of fact, we have not leased an acre on the Sioux Reservation; we have simply permitted the grazing of a limited number of cattle on these reservations, levying a tax of $1 per head a year for the privilege.

There are millions of acres on the Sioux Reservation unoccupied, except by squaw-men and white cattlemen living on the border. These people have for years been using the grazing lands of the Indians without paying either to the Indians directly, or to the Government, one cent for the privilege. Many of these squaw men have become wealthy by this practice.

Under the present system all squaw men and Indians who have rights on the reservation are permitted to graze not to exceed 100 head free, but are required to pay $1 per head for everything in excess of that amount. A very large proportion of the Sioux Indians do not own cattle, and can not avail themselves of this grazing privilege, and it is eminently unfair to permit a few favorite individuals to reap the benefit of the grazing lands without any recompense to those less fortunate or less energetic full bloods.

Upon investigation I have found that the dissatisfaction with this system comes almost entirely from these squaw men, and a few cattlemen, who have been cut off from the free use of the range; in fact, a delegation of these squaw men called upon me at the office a few months ago, protesting against the system.

I have also received several communications from people who are identified more or less with the Mohonk Conference, protesting against the system, claiming that it was unfair to these progressive Indians, who are doing what they can to become self-supporting. This reason seems to be very plausible, but I cannot conceive any good reason for rewarding an Indian for supporting him and family. And right here I want to enter my protest against the conduct of some members of the Mohonk conference concerning policies that have been adopted by the office. As an illustration, I might state that a short time ago the office stopped the indiscriminate issue of hides to the Indians of the Sioux and other reservations. The order had no more than gone out before the mail was loaded with letters protesting against the hardship imposed upon the Indians by such a course. The Indians had no right whatever to the hides, as their treaty simply provided for a pound and a half of net beef as a ration. The issuing of hides was a concession made to them during the Harrison Administration, when it was thought it would avert a threatened outbreak at the time. I think it was a mistake in the first place, but I can see no good reason why the Government should continue the mistake.

Again, when the indiscriminate issue of rations was discontinued a few months ago, and instructions were sent to the agents to cut off from the ration roll all squaw men and their families, returned students, and Indians who were capable of supporting themselves, the same thing was repeated. I was burdened with a daily mail from our good friends of the Mohonk conference, setting out the great hardships that would be brought about by such a course. If there is any one thing more than another that the Mohonk conference deserves credit for, it has been its persistent and consistent opposition to these indiscriminate issues of rations; but I submit if it is fair for you to meet here for several days annually, advocating this policy, and then as soon as you return to your homes to belabor the office for carrying out what you have advocated at the conference?

You have also consistently advocated the breaking up of reservations. with which I am in full sympathy and have done all I could to bring this condition of affairs about by advocating the cutting up of the reservations and permitting the building of railroads, towns, and villages upon the reservations, so that the Indians would have the benefit of the example of the whites, and also an opportunity to do work for the whites if they chose to do so; but the same good friends are writing continuously to the office asking me to protect the Indians and to keep out the whites from settling and encroaching upon the reservations.

In this one item of the issuing of hides alone the Government has saved from $70,000 to $80,000 a year, a large proportion of which has in the past been simply wasted by the Indians, as the women were required to take care of the hides and turn it over to the men, who traded it for tobacco, whisky, and other worthless articles.

Mr. Smiley. I never wrote you such a letter.

Commissioner JONES. No; or any other member of the Board of Indian Commissioners.

In the matter of cutting down of rations, I will state that the indiscriminate issue of rations has been discontinued for the last three months. It was found that the Indian agents in their annual estimate would send in requisitions for the full number on their roll. As an illustration, the agent at Pine Ridge would send in a requisition for over 6,000 rations. When the list was checked up and compared with the office record we found that there were hundreds of children from this reservation in non-reservation and other schools. Hundreds of others were not on the reservation at all and not entitled to a ration. There are also hundreds of squaw men and their children, and wealthy Indians, who come regularly twice a month to the agency to get their pound and a half of beef to the detriment of the poor and needy; and, as I stated before, instructions were, issued to cut off every able bodied Indian who could make his own living, provided he were given the opportunity to do so. Many of them own hundreds of head of cattle, and are no more entitled to a ration than a white man.

A report has been received from the Rosebud Agency after these instructions were issued, stating that only 62 per cent of the Indians who received rations last year were now receiving them; and now I ask you, my good friends, do not begin to send in protests against this discontinuance of rations, claiming that the Indians are being starved. That is not consistent. I ask you to stick to the principles that you are advocating here. If you are right here, you are wrong when you get home.

In considering Indian affairs at the last conference, some attention was given to the obstacles in the way of the Indian toward independence and self-support, and three of the most important were pointed out and made the subject of discussion. It was shown that the indiscriminate issue of rations was an effectual barrier to civilization; that the periodical distribution of large sums of money was demoralizing in the extreme, and that the general leasing of allotments, instead of benefiting the Indian as originally intended, only contributed to their demoralization.

Further observation and reflection lead to the unwelcome conviction that another obstacle may be added to those already named, and that is education. It is to be distinctly understood that it is not meant by this to condemn education in the abstract. Far from it. Its advantages are too many and too apparent to need any demonstration here. Neither is it meant as a criticism upon the conduct or management of any particular school or schools now in operation. What I mean is that the present Indian educational system taken, as a whole is not calculated to produce the results so earnestly claimed for it and so hopefully anticipated when it was begun.

No doubt this idea will be received with some surprise, and expressions of dissent will doubtless spring at once to the lips of many of those engaged or interested in Indian work. Nevertheless, I believe that a brief view of the plan in vogue will convince the most skeptical that the idea is correct.

There are in operation at the present time 113 boarding schools with an average attendance of something over 16,000 pupils, ranging from 5 to 21 years old. These pupils are gathered from the cabin, the wickiup, and the tepee. Partly by cajolery and partly by threats, partly by bribery and partly by fraud, partly by persuasion and partly by force, they are induced to leave their homes and their kindred to enter these schools and take upon themselves the outward semblance of civilized life. They are chosen, not on account of any particular merit of their own, not by reason of mental fitness, but solely because they have Indian blood in their veins. Without regard to their worldly condition, without any previous training, without any preparation whatever, they are transported to the schools sometimes thousands of miles away without the slightest expense or trouble to themselves or their people. The Indian youth finds himself at once, as if by magic, translated from a state of poverty to one of affluence. He is well fed and clothed and lodged. Books and all the accessories of learning are given him, and teachers provided to instruct him. He is educated in the industrial arts on the one hand, and not only in the rudiments but in the liberal arts on the other. Beyond “the three R’s” he is instructed in geography, grammar and history; he is taught drawing, algebra, and geometry, music and astronomy; and receives lessons in physiology, botany, and entomology. Matrons wait on him when he is well, and physicians and nurses tend him when he is sick. A steam laundry does his washing, and the latest modern appliances do his cooking. A library affords him relaxation for his leisure hours; athletic sports and the gymnasium furnish him with exercise and recreation, while music entertains him in the evening. He has hot and cold baths, steam heat, and electric light, and all the modern conveniences. All of the necessities of life are given him and many of its luxuries. All of this without money and without price, or the contribution of a single effort of his own or of his people. His wants are all supplied almost for the wish. The child of the wigwam becomes a modern Aladdin, who has only to rub the Government lamp to gratify his desires.

Here he remains until his education is finished, when he is returned to his home, which by contrast must seem squalid indeed; to the parents whom his education must make it impossible to honor; and left to make his way against the ignorance and bigotry of his tribe. Is it any wonder he fails? Is it surprising if he lapses into barbarism? Not having earned his education, it is not appreciated; having made no sacrifice to obtain it, it is not valued. It is looked upon as a right and not as a privilege; it is accepted as a favor to the Government and not to the recipient; and the almost inevitable tendency is to encourage dependence, foster pride, and create a spirit of arrogance and selfishness. The testimony on this point of those closely connected with the Indian employees of the service would, it is believed, be interesting.

It is not denied that some good flows from this system. It would be singular if there did not, after all the effort that has been made and the money that has been lavished. In the last twenty years fully $45,000,000 have been spent by the Government alone for the education of Indian pupils, and it is a liberal estimate to put the number of those so educated at not over 25,000. If the present rate is continued for another twenty years, it will take over seventy millions more.

But while it is not denied that the system has produced some good results, it is seriously questioned whether it is calculated to accomplish the great end in view, which is not so much the education of the individual as the lifting up of the race. It is contended, and with some reason, that with the same effort and much less expenditure applied locally, or to the family circle, far greater and much more beneficent results could have been obtained, and the tribes would have been in a much more advanced stage of civilization than at present.

On the other hand, it is said that the stream of returning pupils carries with it the refining influence of the schools, and operates to elevate the people. Doubtless this is true of individual cases, and it may have some faint influence on the tribes. But will it ever sufficiently leaven the entire mass? It is doubtful. It may be possible in time to purify a fountain by cleansing its turbid waters as they pour forth, and then returning them to their original source. But experience is against it. For centuries pure, fresh water streams have poured their floods into the Great Salt Lake, and its waters are still salt.

What, then, shall be done? And this inquiry brings into prominence at once the whole Indian question.

It may be well first to take a glance at what has been done. For about a generation the Government has been taking a very active interest in the welfare of the Indian. In that time he has been located on reservations and fed and clothed. He has been supplied lavishly with utensils and means to earn his living, with materials for his dwelling and articles to furnish it; his children have been educated and money has been paid him; farmers and mechanics have been supplied him; and he has received aid in a multitude of different ways. In the last thirty-three years over $240,000,000 have been spent upon an Indian population not exceeding 180,000; enough, if equitably divided, to build each one a house suitable to his condition and furnish it throughout; to fence his land and build him a barn; to buy him a wagon, team, and harness; to furnish him plows and other implements necessary to cultivate the ground, and to give him something besides to embellish and beautify his home. It is not pretended that this amount is exact, but it is sufficiently so for the purposes of this discussion.

What is his condition today? He is still on his reservation; he is still being fed; his children are still being educated, and money is still being paid him; he is still dependent upon the Government for existence; mechanics wait on him, and farmers still aid him. He is little, if any, nearer the goal of independence than he was thirty years ago; and if the present policy is continued, he will get little, if any, nearer in thirty years to come. It is not denied that under this, as under the school system, there has been some progress; but it has not been commensurate with the money spent and effort made.

It is easy to point out difficulties, but it is not so easy to overcome them. Nevertheless, an attempt will now be made to indicate a policy which, if steadfastly adhered to, will not only relieve the Government of an enormous burden, but, it is believed, will practically settle the entire Indian question within the space usually allotted to a generation. Certainly it is time to make a move toward terminating the guardianship, which has so long been exercised over the Indians, and putting them upon an equal footing with the white man so far as their relations with the Government are concerned. Under the present system the Indian ward never attains his majority. The guardianship goes on in an unbroken line from father to son, and generation after generation the Indian lives and dies a ward.

To begin at the beginning, then, it is freely admitted that education is essential. But it must be remembered that there is a vital difference between white and Indian education. When a white youth goes away to school or college his moral character and habits are already formed and well denned. In his home, at his mother’s knee, from his earliest moments, he has imbibed those elements of civilization, which, developing as he grows up, distinguish him from the savage. He goes to school not to acquire a moral character, but to prepare himself for some business or profession by which he can make his way in after life.

With the Indian youth it is different. Born a savage, and raised in an atmosphere of superstition and ignorance, he lacks at the outset those advantages inherited by his white brother and enjoyed from the cradle. His moral character is yet to be formed. If he is to rise from his low estate, the germs of a nobler existence must be implanted in him and cultivated. He must be taught to lay aside his savage customs like a garment, and take upon himself the habits of civilized life.

In a word, the primary object of a white school is to educate the mind; the primary essential of Indian education is to enlighten the soul. Under our system of government the latter is not the function of the State.

What, then, is the function of the State? Briefly this: To see that the Indian has the opportunity for self-support, and that he is afforded the same protection of his person and property as is given to others. That being done, he should be thrown entirely upon his own resources, to become a useful member of the community in which he lives or not, according as he exerts himself or fails to make an effort; he should be located where the conditions are such that by the exercise of ordinary industry and prudence he can support himself and family; he must be made to realize that in the sweat of his face he shall earn his bread; he must be brought to recognize the dignity of labor and the importance of building and maintaining a home; he must understand that the more useful he is there, the more useful he will be to society; it is there he must find the incentive to work, and from it must come the uplifting of his race.

As I stated before, in the beginning of his undertaking he should have aid and instruction. He is entitled to that. Necessaries of life also will doubtless have to be furnished him for a time, at least until his labor becomes productive. More than this, so long as the Indians are wards of the General Government, and until they have been absorbed by and become a part of the community in which they live, day schools should be established at convenient places where they may learn enough to transact the ordinary business of life. Beyond this in the way of schools it is not necessary to go; beyond this it is a detriment to go. The key to the whole situation is the home. Improvement must begin there. The first and most important object to be attained is the elevation of the domestic life. Until that is accomplished it is futile to talk of higher education.

This is a mere outline. There are innumerable details to be considered and many difficulties to overcome. Of course, it cannot all be done at once. Different conditions prevail in different sections of the country. In some places the conditions are already ripe for the surrender of Government control; in others the natural conditions are such and the Indians are so situated that, if protected in their rights, they should soon be ready for independence. But in other places the question assumes a more serious aspect. Located in an arid region, upon unproductive reservations, often in a rigorous climate, there is no chance for the Indian to make a living even if he would. The larger and more powerful tribes are so situated. So long as this state of things exists the ration system with all its evils must continue. There can be little or no further reduction in that direction than that already made without violating the dictates of humanity. Already in several quarters there is suffering and want. In these cases something should be done toward placing such Indians in a position where they can support themselves, and that something should be done quickly.

But whatever the condition of the Indian may be, he should be removed from a state of dependence to one of independence. And the only way to do this is to take away those things that encourage him to lead an idle life, and, after giving him a fair start, leave him to take care of himself. To that it must come in the end, and the sooner steps are taken to bring it about the better. That/there will be many failures and much suffering is inevitable in the very nature of things, for it is only by sacrifice and suffering that the heights of civilization are reached.



MLA Source Citation:

Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 12 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/address-of-hon-william-a-jones-commissioner-of-indian-affairs.htm - Last updated on Aug 9th, 2013


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