In the late 19th and early 20th century the United States
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In the late 19th and early 20th century, the United States
mode of conduct in the area of the Native American was that of a
domineering step-father. The consequences of “Manifest Destiny”
were manifested. The question was, “What to do with the Native
American?” There was no simple answer to this, but there was a
predominate feeling of the necessity of destroying everything
that was remotely Indian. Once on the reservations, the Indians
were in a state of dependency. All things were given them by the
federal government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs made decisions
on the quality of life of the Native American, and policies
pertaining to them. Their major effort was that of assimilation.
United States policy, however, was marked with ethnocentrism
therefore causing the government’s experiment at assimilation to
The policies of the BIA were not only to remove Native
Americans from the land granted them by treaties, it was also to
get rid of their “Indianness.” “Indianness” was defined as “the
possession of certain cultural traits, blood relationships,
beliefs and values, or a membership on a tribe’s roll”(Josephy
78). The pervading sentiments toward this “Indian problem” was
expressed by Thomas Jefferson Morgan, Commissioner of Indian
Affairs in 1889, ”The Indian must conform to ‘the white man’s
ways,’ peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must”(78).
Politicians and missionaries alike took up the call to make the
Indian into “civilized” human beings.
Military attitudes of this time was marked with paradox.
Many of the officers who wrote about their adventures with
policing the Indians, and their wives, some of whom went on to
write books also, were in a since humane toward the Indian. They
understood the Indians’ anger in their being driven off their
land. There was however, a feeling of superiority in their
patronage of the Native American. They felt that their beliefs,
culture and religion were an interesting topic of study. They
also believed that they were humans, but of a inferior race(Smith
140). By no means were they as intelligent as white society.
Their feelings were echoed by politicians and missionaries of
In 1869, President Grant began giving full power over the
Indian agencies to American churches and missionary bodies. It
was believed that their honesty and charity would give them more
success in the pacification and assimilation of the tribes. In a
short period of time, 73 agencies were apportioned to the
Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Quakers,
Congregationalist, Reformed Dutch and other agencies.
Missionaries believed that by converting the Native Americans to
Christianity, this would encourage the adjustment process from
virtual nomads to sedentary farmers. These missionaries
understood that the cornerstone of Native American society was
their religion. They believed that since the once strong chief
and warriors were all dead or resigned to their fate, the
“medicine men” were the only obstacle left in the way of the full
cooperation of the “heathens.” Thus by the mid-1800s, the US had
banned most forms of Indian religion on the reservations(Reed
48). Those who attempted to maintain tribal customs and
traditions were subjected to severe punishment including:
imprisonment, forced labor and even starvation. Traditional
dress, ceremony, dances, and singing were forbidden by law.
“Every overt manifestation of the spiritual content that had held
Indian society together was banned by an encompassing Religious
Crimes Code”(Josephy,85). This code effectively ended freedom of
religion for the Native Americans. Though thought to be
incorruptible, many churchmen became greedy and dispossessed
Indians of their land and resources.
The first major political action that facilitated the effort
of assimilation was the Dawes General Allotment (Severalty) Act
of 1887. This act attempted to convert all tribal lands into
individual ownership. In exchange for renouncing their tribal
holdings, Indians could become citizens and get individual land
grants; 160 acres to family heads, 80 acres to single
adults(Fuchs 8). Ownership would come only after the expiration
of a 25 year federal trust. The Burke Act of 1906 waived the
remaining trust for all Indians judged competent to farm(Reader’s
companion 268). All surplus land was opened for sale to
non-Indians. The goal of this edict was to expedite the
assimilation of the Indians, and hurry the process of turning
them into good Christian tillers of the soil. The Annual Report
of the Department of the Interior 1901, supports this, “..if
steadfastly adhered to will not only relieve the government of an
enormous burden, but will practically settle the Indian question
within the space generally allotted to a generation”(Fuchs 8).
The land where they were moved, however, was basically
unable to produce any crop, and the Indian had beliefs that
hindered them from scarring the face of their mother earth. Says
anthropologist Gordon Macgregor:
The small size
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Aboriginal title in the United States, American culture, 49th United States Congress, Dawes Act, Indian Reorganization Act, Native Americans in the United States, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Federal Indian Policy, John Collier
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