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Indian Rights Association

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Indian Rights Association – A nonpolitical, nonsectarian body organized in Philadelphia, Dec. 15, 1882, by gentlemen who met in response to an invitation of Mr John Welsh to consider the best method of producing such public feeling and Congressional action as should secure civil rights and education to the Indians, and in time bring about their civilization and admission to citizenship. When the association began its work much of the country over which the Indians roamed was sparsely settled; outbreaks had been frequent; comparatively little attention was paid to the Indians rights and wrongs, and ignorance concerning Indian affairs was widespread. When the tide of emigration swept westward, and settlers, good and bad, began crowding the Indians more and more, it was evident that measures should be adopted whereby the Indian could be adapted to his new artificial environment. The work con fronting the association was one of magnitude. It was necessary to procure accurate knowledge of actual conditions, which could be done only by frequent visits to the Indian country. The information thus obtained had to be brought to the attention of the public in order that sufficient pressure might be exerted on Congress and the Executive. This was done by dissemination of information in pamphlets and leaflets, by public ad dresses, and by announcements through the public press. The association gradually won the respect and confidence of the public. The accuracy of its statements is rarely questioned now, and an appeal to the press on any matter requiring attention from Congress or the public usually meets with ready response. In the beginning the association was regarded by a few as maintaining visionary theories, and was viewed by some Government officials as a meddlesome and irresponsible body; but the Office of Indian Affairs came to regard it as a friendly critic and welcomed its aid. The association has a representative in Washing ton to cooperate with the Office of Indian Affairs, to bring to the attention of the Commissioner matters requiring adjustment, to scrutinize legislation relating to Indian affairs, and to inform members of Congress regarding the merits or demerits of pending bills. Vicious legislation, when it can not be defeated in committee, is vigorously fought in Congress through personal presentation and by letters and pamphlets, with frequent appeals to the Executive.

Many of the laws enacted by Congress with a view of improving the condition of the Indian have been prompted by the association. Among those of a general nature is the statute of Feb. 8, 1887, known as the “general severalty act,” which authorizes allotments. Under this law the title to Indian lands is held by the Government in most cases for 25 years, but in the meantime the allot tee is subject to the laws in common with other citizens. More recent is the enactment of a statute, drafted by the association, designed to defeat the monopoly that has so largely controlled Indian trade, the law now providing that any person of good moral character shall be granted a license on application.

The courts have frequently been appealed to by the association in the endeavor to secure justice. The Warner Ranch (Mission Indian) case, appealed from the local courts of California to the Supreme Court of the United States, was in its inception espoused by the association and prosecuted by it to the final decree of the highest tribunal, the necessary funds for the prosecution of the case being advanced by the association. The celebrated “Lone Wolf” case was appealed by the association to the United States Supreme Court in the hope that the policy of recognizing the validity and sacredness of the Government s treaty obligations with the Indian tribes, followed since the adoption of the Constitution, would be upheld. The adverse decision in this case marked the beginning of a new era in the management of the Indians. The appeal made to the association by friends of Spotted Hawk and Little Whirlwind, of the Northern Cheyenne in Montana, under sentence of death and life imprisonment, respectively, for the alleged murder of a sheep herder, was responded to by the association, which employed counsel to present the case on appeal to the supreme court of Montana. The effort resulted in securing the liberty of both young men, and a subsequent confession by the person guilty of the crime charged to them fully exonerated them and showed the need of watchfulness to prevent great wrongs against Indians by reason of local prejudice. The exposure by the association of the anomalous conditions in Indian Territory resulted in directing the attention of the people and of Congress to the need of better safeguarding the rights of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Considerable attention has been given by the association to exposing the wrongdoing of Government officials where such unfortunately existed, usually by the class of employees who obtained their positions through political influence. The association has also strenuously urged that the appointment of Indian agents be made solely on the ground of efficiency, and it was through its efforts that the civil-service rules were extended to the Indian service.

At the time of the organization of the Indian Rights Association, Congress, owing largely to misunderstanding of the Indians needs, failed to make adequate appropriations for schools, but by informing the public of the nature and possibilities of this work, a vigorous sentiment was created in its favor (see Education). The fact that an organization exists solely to guard the rights of the Indians acts as a powerful deterrent to persons seeking the exploitation of the Indians estate.

The association has printed and distributed about 600,000 copies of various publications. Among those that have attracted much attention are: The Indian Before the Law, by Henry S. Pancoast; The Indian Question Past and Present, by Herbert Welsh; Indian Wardship, by Charles E. Pancoast; Civilization Among the Sioux, by Herbert Welsh; The Mission Indians, by C. C. Painter; Latest Studies on Indian Reservations, by J. B. Harrison; and A New Indian Policy, by S. M. Brosius. (M. K. S.  S. M. B.)


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