- The Royal Proclamation of 1763, set the basis of the recognition of Native Indians, as distinct tribes in America with sovereignty not ceded to the Crown and thus preceding the United States Constitution after Independence.
- There are over 300 undisputed treaties between the US government, and the Native American tribes entered into from 1772 to 1871
- In 1972, the Native Americans staged the first occupy protest, called the Trail of Broken Treaties to highlight the plight of the Native tribes to the Government and the World.
Article II of the American Constitution provides that the President negotiates treaties and Senate ratifies. According to this definition, there are 367 treaties between the United States government and the Native American tribes with undisputed status. Earlier treaties of over 200 were made between the federal governments under the Confederacy and the Native Americans that are disputed in regards to their legality and the extent to which the respective state governments are bound to the terms. Native tribal groups were distinct from each other with different forms of governments and original settlement areas. The US government entered into treaties with the different tribal groups depending on the land interests of the settlers at the time. Through Treaties, Natives have given up large sections of their land for their safety, (because of rampant attacks from the settlers), recognition or to receive service delivery.
The treaties and the United States attitude towards the Native Indians is perhaps the single most persisting indictment against the United States for a nation founded on the belief, “that all men are created equal with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Natives entered into treaties with the U.S. government under duress. Most Chiefs agreed to the terms of the treaty for the survival of the few remaining natives after a war or massacre. The United States also used tricks to get the natives to treaty, with promises of compensation that were never fulfilled.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763
Upon the conclusion of the French and Indians wars with the victory of Britain, King George III issued the royal proclamation forms the cornerstone of Native American Indians or Aboriginal (as known in Canada) rights and law. The proclamation created what is presently referred to as the Proclamation line by organising Britain’s territories in the North American region into “Quebec, East and West Florida, and Grenada and the Indian reservation west of the Appalachians, from the south the Hudson Bay to the north of Florida.”
The Proclamation was an official claim of England to the North American region. In the proclamation, the King states, among other, that Native titles “exists and continues to exist, until ceded by treaty.” The proclamation prohibited settlers from claiming native land unless bought by the crown and then sold to the colonist. It further restricted movement and trade westwards unless by traders licensed by the crown. The proclamation was in effect a prohibition of westward expansion by the colonists until the Jefferson commissioned expedition of Louisiana and other events necessitated the “the great leap westward.”
The Royal proclamation thus set the basis and history of treaties between the U.S and the Native Americans tribes. What follows next is an overview of three of the most prominent treaties between the Natives and the Americans.
Treaty of Hopewell
Treaty of Hopewell was an agreement between the Native Cherokee and the Confederacy upon the Independence of the United States. The United States was represented by four commissioners and the Cherokee by 37 headmen and warriors and was signed on the banks of Keowee River in 1785.
It provided for prisoner exchange between the two parties, placement of the Cherokee under the protection of the United States, determined the boundaries of the Nation and prohibition of settlements of non-Indians in Indian territories. It further provided extradition of non-Indian criminals to the US, for punishment but not trial, the supremacy of the US in trade regulation and provision of an Indian deputy to the Congress and peace and friendship between the Cherokee and the Natives.
Due to the rampant disregard for the treaty, the Cherokee labelled the US, talking leaves, owing to the fleeting nature of their promises in treaties. The Cherokee soon after noted that at least 3000 settlers were on their side of the Territory bordering the then State of Franklin leading to a dispute that was settled by the Treaty of Houston in 1791.
Treaty of Dancing Rabbit
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed between the Choctaws Nation and the US government and ratified by the Senate in 1830 through which the Natives ceded over 10 million acres of land to the US government. It was the first treaty signed after the Indian Removal Act 1830 and resulted in the creation of the Mississippi territory in 1798.
The election of Andrew Jackson as President negatively affected Native Indians for he had an open stand against land and collective rights of the Natives. In 1829, before his inauguration, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State passed “extension laws” extending the jurisdiction of the state over Indian Territories within their borders, counting on the support of the President. The laws outlawed Indian governments, communal land tenure and declared that Indians were state citizens.
The President sent Commissioners John Coffee and John Eaton to negotiate on the transfer of title and resettlement to present-day Oklahoma and Kansas as provided by the Indian Removal Act. Choctaws women leaders whose authorities superseded the Chiefs refused the terms of the treaty on two occasions with the consensus of the whole community. The commissioners called off the negotiations and instead, met the Chiefs who were men and agreed to specific treaty terms which included provisions of Choctaw men and their families to claim title to specific allotment of land in Mississippi as citizens. The treaty was also supposed to allow the Chiefs who signed, their families, and other Indians in support of the Removal to get extra land allocations. The Indians were then given three years to vacate the territory, but the extra land claims in the treaty were not realised owing to the corruption and incompetence of the land agents acting for the US at the time such as William Ward.
Treaty of New Echota 1835
In 1830, gold was discovered in the north of Georgia an area of land at the time occupied by the Cherokee Nation. The federal government opened negotiations with Cherokee people under the leadership of Chief John Ross, Chief Ridge and others who agreed to cede their land in exchange for $ 5 million.
Senate ratified the treaty, but the Cherokee nation rejected it, citing that the Chief’s actions were not representatives of the people will, causing their forcible removal in 1838 and the trail of tears to Oklahoma Territory. The Cherokee assassinated the leadership that agreed to the treaty.
Treaty of Fort Laramie 1851 and 1868
The treaties of Fort Laramie were mostly in response to the regular inter-conflicts between the Native Indians and the settlers. The 1851 agreement is among the contributors to the erosion of the Permanent Indian Frontier as established by President Jackson, as it provided for the safe passage of migrants through the Territory including railroad surveyors. The treaty also provided that the Natives would allow US government to build roads and army posts in their land and pay compensation to the government for violation of treaty terms. The treaty provided that the government would pay an annual annuity of $ 50, 000.
Enforcing the treaty was problematic on the side of the settlers and the Plains Indians. The treaty was written in English. Thus not many Natives understood it, and furthermore, not many tribal groups agreed to its terms. The settlers also did not adhere to the terms of the treaty and settled past the Oregon Trail without the intervention of the U.S army that had set up Forts on the trail to protect the Native and the settlers from each other.
The second Treaty of 1868 was because of the Red Cloud’s War and the Fetterman’s massacre. The US government realized that they had underestimated the army required to defeat the Sioux and had discovered another path to the gold in Montana. The government contracted to close the Bozeman Trail, a shortcut to the Montana gold fields, and the forts along it. Chief Red Cloud arranged to move his people to the Great Sioux Reservation in Dakota.
Ultimately, the terms of the Fort Laramie treaty were met with limited success. Inter-tribal fighting continued amongst the Plains Indians and migrants continued to trespass Indian Territory. In 1874 gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the government once again offered to buy the land, but the Sioux tribes refused leading to the Great Sioux War of 1876 – 1877.
Trail of Broken Treaties
Different organisations with the objective of advocating for the rights of Native Americans organised a caravan and protests from North America to the capital of Washington, D.C in 1972 to meet with the government and discuss the needs of the Natives.
The Natives had prepared a twenty-point position paper, but the Nixon Administration refused to meet the protestors. The protestors occupied the Department of Interior headquarters where the Bureau of Indian Affairs was located for a week until the federal government sent leaders to negotiate with the protestors.
The following is a summary of the twenty point demands raised in the position paper:
- The US government should revoke sections of the 1871 Indians Appropriations Act that removed the power of the Indian Nations to contract through constitutionally bound treaties with the US government.
- The US government should establish a Treaty Commission with powers to enter into treaties with Indians to safeguard the posterity of the Indian Nations. No action of the US government should vacate any term of existing treaties.
- The federal government should pledge to meet with four Indian representatives on June 2, 1974, to discuss the future of Indian Nations in the presence of the media
- The President should establish a committee of Indians and non-Indians to examine treaties commitments and violations and produce an advisory report for adoption and further action
- Treaties not ratified to be presented before the Senate for ratification
- All American Indian people should be considered in treaty relations with the federal government
- The federal government should ensure judicial enforcement and protection of treaty rights of American Indians
- The federal government should establish a system of federal courts through which Native Americans can seek redress against treaties and tribal rights with the participation of Indians in the interpretation of treaties. The jurisdiction of these courts will apply to issues between Indians and Indians and non-Indians.
- The United States Congress to relinquish its control over Indian Affairs and establish a joint committee (Congress and Indian representatives) to be called the “Committee on Reconstruction of Indian Relations and Programs” with the mandate of restructuring Indian relations in America.
- By July 1976 the federal government to restore a permanent Native American land area of not less than 110 million acres. The land should be perpetually non-taxable by the federal government and the termination of Acts of 1950 – 60s repealed.
- The roll of Indian membership tribes in 25 U.S.C. 163 should be revised to include an individual who lost tribal status due to enrollment challenges and the ability for individuals to register in more than one tribe and receive double benefits, in reflection to the interconnected nature of the Native tribes.
- Congress to repeal state laws passed under the Public Law 280 which allows for non-Indians to gain access and control over reservation areas undermining the sovereignty of the tribes
- Offences against Indians to be treated as federal crimes and offenders must stand trial in under federal laws. Congress should establish the federal Indian grand jury consisting of Indians appointed by the president with the participation of the Indians whose jurisdiction covers non-Indians in Indian reservations.
- The dismantling of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by 1976 and establishment of a new government that structure that accurately maintains Indian-Federal relationships
- The new office once the Bureau is dismantled to be called the Office of Federal Indian Relations and Community Reconstruction
- Among the mandates of the Office of Federal Indian Relations and Community Reconstruction should be the promotion of equality between Indian Nations and federal government and to find mechanisms to remedy historical injustices by the federal government against the Indians
- Congress should enact a statue enables trade, commerce and transportation of Indians outside the jurisdiction of the federal government and the immunity from taxation state and federal of Indians in reservations.
- US government should recognise and protect the spiritual and cultural integrity of the Indian Nations
- Mechanism of Indian organisations should be consolidated to unify Indian Nations
- The US should commit to improving and creating better standards of housing, education, employment and economic development for American Indians