Early American Government Attitude towards Plains Indians Facts & Worksheets

Early American Government Attitude towards Plains Indians facts and information activity worksheet pack and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 year old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

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    • Government policies and their effect on Plains Indians
    • The Trade and Intercourse Acts (1790-1834)
    • Supreme Court Interventions
    • The movement of Plains Indians to Reservations (1830-1887)
    • General Allotment (Dawes) Act of 1887
    • John Collier

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s know more about Early American Government Attitude towards Plains Indians!

    • By the 1800s, the population boom and acquisition of new states in the United States territory allowed the country to expand westward. This created issues and conflicts with Plains Indians who already occupied land in the west.
    • To settle this, certain congress, executive and judicial decisions were made that expressed the US government’s attitude towards the Plains Indians. These government policies led to the loss of over 100 million acres of Indian land between 1887 and 1934.

    Government Policies

    • By the 1800s, the United States was rapidly expanding westward as a country due to a population boom and acquisition of new states in its territory.
    • However, the Plains Indians already occupied the land in the west.
    • The way of the Plains Indians, their language, culture and religion, was entirely different from those of the European settlers in the states.
    • The natives were non-conforming and put up an over thirty-year resistance from 1855-1890 against the settlers and government wanting to take their land. They asserted their sovereignty as a tribe and as natives of the area they occupied.
    • The Plains Indians prospered in their nomadic lifestyle, hunting buffalo as the primary source of their livelihood for food, shelter and clothing. The federal government’s approach towards the Plains Indians was as if they were a problem that required solving rather than a sovereign nation with dignity and rights, as the natives saw themselves.
    • The attitude of the early government towards the natives was expressed through policies developed by the government. Policies are an embodiment of government intentions. They are either distributive or redistributive, like tax laws, or regulations which compel a particular behaviour from citizens. If they are to be effective, the government and its agencies must identify the problem correctly.
    • The term ‘policies’ includes a wide range of government actions, from laws by the state and federal government to administrative decisions outlined by the executive arms of government at the state and federal government level. The judiciary is responsible for interpreting laws, especially the bill of rights and therefore judicial decisions shape policy development or implementation.
    • What follows next is a timeline of policies, including judicial decisions about the Plains Indians, the intentions behind them, an overview of the provisions outlined in the specific policies and their outcomes.

    The Trade and Intercourse Acts

    • The Trade and Intercourse Acts were laws developed for the protection of Indians. They provided that white settlers were not allowed to trade with the natives without the regulation of the federal government.
    • Furthermore, the acts reduced the sovereignty of the natives by providing that the tribes were only required to enforce their laws to their people and not territories. Seeing the spiritual relationship the natives had with their land, this had a negative impact.
    • Through the Indian Removal Act 1830, 50,000 native Indians were forcibly removed from the eastern states.
    • The Intercourse Act 1834 made provisions for the exact location of the new reserves since the Indians Removal Act did not specify this, stating only that Indians were to transfer to, “that part of the United States west of the Mississippi, and not within the states of Missouri, Louisiana, or the Territory of Arkansas.”
    • The policy prohibited encroachment by the whites into the new Indian reservations and guaranteed total non-interference of native affairs by even the government. There were some additional 70 treaties outlining government support and protection in their migration. The federal government labelled the land at the frontier as the Great American Desert, believing no one would want to own property in the area. The U.S. Army was mandated to patrol the border to ensure enforcement of the law.

    • Noting the diverse nature of the Indians’ culture, the government committed to ensuring that they would have a representative in Congress, a promise that the government never honoured.
    • The Indian tribes resisted the removal and the provisions of the Intercourse Act, and the government resorted to moving them by force to the reserved area. The forced relocation and march to the land reserve marked the Trail of Tears. About 4,000 of the 15,000 Indians, who were forcibly removed from Georgia, died along the way.
    • The Trade and Intercourse Acts outlined the penalties for crimes committed against the natives by the settlers. They also prohibited trespassing by the settlers onto the reserves for grazing, hunting or any other reason, and the purchase of native land by individuals was prohibited. These were among the few short-lived wins.

    Supreme Court Interventions

    • John Marshall was the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in its history. He is distinguished for affirming the independence of the Supreme Court in the formative years of the American democratic system among the three arms of government. He established the ‘judicial review’ principle, which declared the Supreme Court role in striking laws that violated the US Constitution.
      • In 1823, John v McIntosh was the first instituted case concerning relations between the Indians and the federal government.
      • It caused the interpretation of the doctrine of discovery established at the height of imperialism.
      • The theory provided “that ownership of lands belonged to the government whose subjects explored and occupied that land whose inhabitants were not subjects of a European monarch.” This doctrine meant that European claims over North America superseded claims by native Americans.
      • Thomas Johnson bought land from the Piankeshaw Indians. At the same time, William McIntosh obtained ownership of the property from the federal government.
      • There was an ensuing dispute as to the rightful owner. The court held that the land belonged to McIntosh, detailing that Indians only had the right to occupy. Accordingly, the right to occupy “could be overturned by the conquest of the Indians or purchase from them, by the discovering nation.”
      • Upon independence, discovery rights shifted from Great Britain to the United States government and, therefore, only the federal government had the legal capacity to sell land. Indians could not sell land and lacked the constitutional right to settle aboriginal land claims, and furthermore, only the federal government could negotiate with Indians over land.
      • The state of Georgia made it illegal for the Cherokee government to enact and enforce laws. The Cherokee Nation sought an injunction to stop the state from dividing their land and suppressing their governance system. The Cherokee natives contended that they were an independent foreign nation and Georgia state laws were not applicable in their territory.
      • In 1831, with the Cherokee Nation v Georgia, the Cherokee sued the state of Georgia for a law in the 1800s that Georgia passed that divided the Cherokee land among counties.
      • Chief Justice John Marshall disagreed that the Cherokee was a sovereign nation, noting that they were a “dependent domestic nation” and the relationship between the states and the tribes was that of “ward and guardian.” The ruling was a landmark because the judge recognised the inherent sovereignty of the native tribes, “which though predates the United States, was within the boundaries of the United States.”
      • The Cherokee was successful in demonstrating that they were a “distinct political society separated from others and capable of managing its affairs and governing itself.” The case established a rule called the “doctrine of federal trust responsibility.” According to the doctrine, the federal government was responsible for protecting the tribes in the land reserves and compensating them by providing necessities such as food and shelter.
      • A year later, the case of Worcester v Georgia (1832) came to the Supreme Court. The state of Georgia had arrested missionaries for violating a state law that required non-Indians residing in the territory of Georgia to secure a licence from the state.
      • Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, Justice Marshall held that the tribe had exclusive jurisdiction within their territory and therefore such rules of the state of Georgia did not apply, forming the basis of the present-day Indians jurisdictional law.

    The Movement to Reservations (1830-1887)

    • In 1871, Congress passed a law that stopped the federal government from entering into treaties with Indians. The implication of this was that unilateral executive orders could establish reservations after 1871.
    • The status of tribes as “dependent domestic nations” was in danger. The law intended to assimilate the Indians into the American culture. However, because of the Supreme Court rulings, common consent was still a requirement for federal actions concerning the natives.

    General Allotment (Dawes) Act of 1887

    • From 1887 to 1933, the US continued pursuing policies for the assimilation of native Indians in the broader American society. The law provided for Indian reservation land to be allocated to individual native Americans and suspended their right to sell for 25 years, but reservation land was left after the allotment process could be sold to an outsider.
    • In Lone Wolf v Hitchcock, the Supreme Court in 1903 held that Congress could dispose of Indian land without the concurrence of the Indians occupying it. The legislation and the Supreme Court decision fuelled the settlers’ appetite for the Indians’ land.
    • The Dawes Act also made provisions for US citizenship for natives who acquired land according to the allotment procedure and “adopted the habits of civilized life.” The plan also implicated the education practices of Indians with a principal in one of the Indian Children’s Schools boasting that the ambition of the school was to “kill the Indian in him and save the man.”
    • The tribes suffered a significant blow because of these policies. Half a century later, native Indian land had decreased from 154 million acres in 1887 to 48 million in 1934. In 1928, the Meriam report documented the poverty and suffering of the Indians because of the policies.
    • The report, while supporting that government policy continued in its objective of assimilating the native Indians, spoke against “the disastrous attempt to force individual Indians or groups of Indians to be what they do not want to be, to break their pride in themselves and their Indian race, or to deprive them of their Indian culture.”

    John Collier

    • In 1933, John Collier became the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He championed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 that brought to an end to the policy of allotment and prohibited the further sale of Indian land. The act also decreed that land still in the reservation and not sold should be returned to the custody of the tribe.
    • The act also provided for a measure of government and judicial independence to the tribes.

    • The Indians rejected the policy. It did not attempt to address the historical injustices of the previous systems, which had resulted in 100,000 dispossessed Indians whose land was sold during the allotment period. It was a case of too little too late, a reality that persists today. The impact of the injustices suffered by the natives at the hands of the settlers and the early government is permanent.

    Image sources:

    1. https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-8lw9Cd0-sS4/W-48mjuS9JI/AAAAAAAAZEg/_4zCku3sogo8H3evIe2OzEMrRsHsDmuSACLcBGAs/s640/Indians%2Bon%2Bthe%2BPrairie.jpg
    2. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/the-gilded-age/american-west/a/the-reservation-system
    3. https://widenersgreatdepression.wordpress.com/indian-reorganization-act-of-1934/