Review of Policy in Indian Affairs

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The Europeans who first met the Indians had no uniform policy in their treatment of them. Some came to convert heathen, others for gold and silver, others for religions liberty, and others for the glory of their sovereigns, and to add new domains to national areas. The Indian wondered at this variety of interests and at the many kinds of white men. His wonder grew when he became better acquainted with the whites, and during the past 400 years his amazement has not decreased. When the colonies were organized the Indians within them were managed by the separate colonial authorities. There was but little difficulty then in managing the Indians, considering the largo area of unoccupied lands and the small number of whites. After 1789 the United States government assumed charge of the Indians.

All nations in control of this continent north of Spanish America recognized the Indian as primarily the owner of the soil, and considered that his title to the land must be extinguished before any disposition could be made of it, which was usually done by a treaty between Chiefs and headmen of tribes and representatives (generally soldiers) of the contracting nation.

The United States has never considered public domain public lands and extended the land disposition or settlement laws over them until the Indian title was extinguished. The United States only permits Indian tribes to sell their own lands to itself. No citizen can purchase land of an Indian without authority from Congress. The right and supremacy of the government to do this has been sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States, and is now an accepted fact. Up to 1869 the United States has made about 450 treaties and agreements with 157 tribes of those once or now within its borders. The policy of recognizing the Indian tribes as separate nations was begun in 1789 and continued up to 1869. In.1869 President Grant, at the suggestion of General P. H. Sheridan, put an end to treaty making with the Indian nations, which action was confirmed by Congress in 1871, and they became wards of the nation. Since 1789 the Indian has had eight distinct policies tried upon him by the United States government:

First. The tribes were treated as separate and independent nations, and treaties were made with them by the War Department.

Second. The frontier was so extensive and the area of land so large back of it, that early in the century the government saw but little of the Indians, except when they came into the forts and posts. It then presented them with swords, guns, knives, pistols, and tomahawks, and red paint to deck themselves for war. A line of houses, posts, or warehouses was built on the frontier and occupied by government agents called factors, and the government was alone permitted to trade with the Indian and receive the profit of the trade with him. This was abandoned in 1829. A general superintendent of Indian affairs, authorized by law in 1892, resided at St. Louis, Mo.

Third. Indians were controlled in an indefinite way by the War Department until 1849, under the generals commanding departments, districts, divisions, or portions of the country, and used sometimes in Indian wars as allies, the War Department also supplying them with arms and ammunition. A civic commissioner was over them in the War Department after 1839.

Fourth. The creation of the Home or Interior Department in 1840 necessitated the transfer of bureaus from several departments to make this new one. The Indian bureau was among those transferred, and still continues under civil rule. Commissioners appointed from civil life now make treaties with the Indians.

Fifth. The organizing of the Indians within a state or territory under a superintendency. In territories the territorial governor was sometimes the superintendent, but in the states the superintendent was appointed by the President. The agencies and reservations were under an agent who reported directly to the superintendent, he reporting to the Indian office at Washington. Under such a system there was a fine opportunity for gathering plunder. In 1869 President Grant took up the Indian question. He soon abolished the superintendencies and made the agents directly responsible to the Indian office at Washington. The experiment was tried in 1869-1870 of assigning the several reservations to denominations. The churches selected the agents and President Grant appointed them. It proved unsatisfactory and was abandoned.

Sixth. The reservation system insisting by treaty and otherwise, beginning extensively in 1868 that the Indians stop roaming, assigning them reservations of land upon which they moved, and agreeing solemnly, in most cases with the Indian, that such reservations should be permanent. Public necessity, constant demand by the settlers, encroachment of the whites, the objection to a large number of wild Indians living as tribes within bodies of white population, caused the government in 1887 to pass the allotment act, forcing the Indians to take lands in severalty, and paying them a compensation for whatever lands remained after each had been allotted, thus destroying their reservation and tribal condition, the amount to be paid being fixed by the United States.

Seventh. The agriculturalizing of Indians by congressional enactment: since 1819 issuing food and clothes and agricultural implements and some cattle to the Indians, the payment of annuities and the establishment of schools and a number of experimental efforts, such as trying to make Indians farmers and mechanics.

Eighth. The educational and allotment policy now in full operation and the enlistment of Indians in the United States Army. The educational policy began in 1819 with an appropriation of $10,000, which was increased in 1876 to $20,000. It embraces several features, the education of children at citizen Indians, reservation Indians, in fact all Indian children; this policy contemplates the education of about 18,000 children, There are Indian schools on the several reservations conducted by teachers paid by the nation, and Indian schools on the reservations or near them conducted by denominations, who receive $150 per year or more for each Indian pupil. There are also a number of industrial schools, like Carlisle, Pa.; Genoa, in Nebraska, and the one near Salem, Ore., where the pupils cost $107 or $180 each per year, These are solely under the charge of the bureau of Indian affairs. Some private schools throughout the country are also paid an annual sum for the care of Indian pupils, as are local school boards in some of the states and territories.

The educational policy also contemplates the building, or, when built, time extension, of industrial or Indian schools at all of the present agencies, the superintendent of the schools to be bonded, and to receive a small additional annual compensation, thus taking the place of the Indian agent. This has been done at the Hoopa Valley, Eastern Cherokee, and Moqui agencies it is it change of name merely and not of the system in the matter of the Indian agent.

The enlistment of Indians as soldiers in the United States army has improved it success, upon the testimony of the commanding general of the army.

A great difficulty, and probably the greatest, in Indian progress or attempts at their civilization, is the fact that practically all such efforts come from outside sources, either from the government or from white people, which are met usually by the serious opposition of the Indians. These tenders, coaling from those whom the Indian considers his natural enemies, arouse his suspicion. No aid to any extent for a long time past in this struggle has come from the Indians, excepting the Indian police, paid by the nation, who have for ten years past; aided a little.

Ability to support themselves alone is not proof of advance of Indians toward civilization, because they might support themselves, by the chase or limiting and fishing, The best tests of Indian advance toward civilization are their adoption of the white man’s dress and habits, their engaging in agriculture or the mechanical arts, and in consenting to the education of their children. Judged by two of these three standards, the reservation Indiana, of the United States to June 30, 1890, have made but little progress toward Anglo-Saxon civilization. Of about 70,000 who wear citizens dress, 10,000 have adopted the white man’s best habits. Only a nominal number of the unallotted 133,417 reservation Indians are put down as agriculturists, and these are included with those wile earn their own living on the reservations by hunting, fishing, and root digging. Four-fifths of these are of the last three classes.

As to the schools, the reservation Indians are not partial to them. It is not easy to tell how much the majority of the reservation Indians have advanced up to 1890. At present many of them are in a most dependent and wretched condition.

The system of allotment will abolish the reservations, which were originated. by John C. Calhoun while Secretary of War.

The reservation Indians are now governed by laws made by Congress and by rules laid down by the Indian office. The reservations, on which the Indians live, although mostly within states, are not subject to all the state laws. They are almost “empires within an empire”, and the Indian agent is supreme over them, Felonies, committed on them are tried in state or United States courts. The Indian not being considered a citizen of the United States, but a ward of the nation, he can not even leave the reservation without permission.

The Indian reservations are now ideal homes for Indian youth. Many of them absolutely do nothing in the way of labor or work until 12 or 14 years of age. They roll about in the dirt, play games, ride ponies, and copy the-manners and ways of the older Indians. Indian mothers, who, as stated, are most affectionate, have control of their children. The Indian father never strikes nor attempts to control his children. The Indian boy when ready to become a warrior passes under the control of his father.

In tribal or reservation Idle the young are taught the glories and legends of Indian life. The boys are taught to hunt and trap, the splendor and horrors of war, to scorn mammal labor, and to consider women as beasts of burden. The girls are taught to labor for man and time value and beauty of obedience to man. Cunning, old men fill the minds of the youth with hatred of the white man and his methods. The Indian youth educated at national institutions, away from tribes or reservations, upon their return are threatened, ridiculed, and in many cases forced into a return to the breechcloth and blanket, and to again take up the Indian language. From all his surroundings and education with his tribe, the Indian boy when he reaches manhood is usually unfit to cope with the youth of like age among the whites. The sooner the Indian youth is thrown among the whites the better his, chance for making a livelihood when a man. The Indian is essentially imitative and will soon learn the white man’s ways when forced to; besides, the Indian likes money, and many of them will work when they are paid for it.

Cadillac at Detroit, in the northwest, from 1701 to 1710, attempted the only successful method of civilizing Indians: showing them how to work; giving them the proceeds of their labor and keeping faith with them. He considered them men, and so treated them. He began a settlement for “habitation and the growth of civic institutions”. He had as grant of land and upon this he began operations. He brought seed wheat from France and gave the Indians each a little land to work. He was the father of allotment. In 1718, after he left, the Indians about Detroit were reported as harvesting wheat and raising corn, beaus, peas, squashes, and melons; but the almost constant war between England and France, in which the Indians were used as allies, prevented the growth of the Cadillac idea in the upper northwest. Cadillac’s idea was the reverse of the clerical; the latter founded missions to convert Indians; near which were trading posts to enrich the owners. The church sought to control, the Indian by appealing to his heart and sympathies, which were supposed to be alike in men, and the traders frequently intermarried with the Indians, and thus obtained influence over them, These methods neither aided the Indian to better his actual condition nor tended to the founding of permanent homes or communities.

Cadillac showed the Indian a result from his labor and stimulated his ambition. This is the present Canadian. policy. The Indians of Canada are placed upon reservations of land which will maintain them, of course with as small area for each, and they are aided to a start in life. They are now practically self- sustaining. The Canadian Indian knows when he goes on the laud that it is to be his; the Indian in the United States knows, if experience is worth anything, that, the chances are largely that it will not be his, and in addition it may be as sand bank. Ninety per cent of the present Indians on reservations are not agriculturists, but the most of them will work in, fields when paid for it. The Indian is too much of a child of nature to wait for slow growing crops. He wants to see an immediate result from his labor. He will work as a laborer provided you board him and pay him cash besides. This has been tested. Money is an actual visible result to him. The Navajos did much of the work of grading the Atlantic and Pacific, railroad in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Indian office now has, in fact, charge of 133,417 Indians, of whom but 57,000 receive rations from the nation, and most of these are on barren lands. About 27,000 of the total are allotted Indians. On almost all of the reservations are some aged, crippled, deformed, and otherwise dependent Indians who are allotted. There are, all told, about 1,500 of those.

The efficiency of the Indian police at the various agencies is due to the fact that they are paid for their work, are mounted and armed, and have authority. Indians like places of command; as such positions increase their personal influence with the members of their tribe, who believe they have the ear of the agent. To be on terms with the Indian police is frequently to be influential with the agent, as that official mainly obtains his knowledge of the condition of the Indians from the police. General William S. Harney originated the Indian police in a treaty with the Sioux at Fort Pierre, Nebraska territory, in March 1856.

The number of actual agencies is 54. The number of reservations varies according the changes through allotments and otherwise, that take place sometimes almost from day to day, so that they differ with different dates of report.

The report of the Commissioner, of Indian Affairs 1890, page X XXVII, gives this number of reservations as 133, which is merely suggestive as to the number at any particular date.



MLA Source Citation:

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 18 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/review-of-policy-in-indian-affairs.htm - Last updated on Oct 25th, 2012


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