Part II: 5 Acts Defining US/Indian Relations
The state of affairs in 1828
Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross
By 1828, new states had been added and many had drawn their borders to overlap Indian territory. Some of these states, especially Georgia, believed that state laws should apply to everyone living within their borders. The state legislature of Georgia, enacted a series of laws which stripped the Cherokee of their rights under the laws of the state. Indians believed that they should be exempt from state laws within their territorial boundaries.
The idea of removing Native Americans from east of the Mississippi was gaining favor in congress.
Andrew Jackson, who had long favored removal, was elected US president in 1828, taking office in 1829.
In this climate, Principal Chief John Ross led a delegation to Washington in January 1829 to resolve their disputes with Georgia. Ross found support in Congress from individuals in the National Republican Party but despite this support, in April 1829, John H. Eaton, the secretary of war informed Ross that President Jackson would support the right of Georgia to extend its laws over the Cherokee Nation
Chief Ross took their case to the Supreme Court, but the case was denied. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that “the relationship of the tribes to the United States resembles that of a ‘ward to its guardian‘ [not a foreign state] and therefore could not sue the State of Georgia.
President Jackson signed the Removal Act into law in 1830 and started putting together lists from census reports of Native Americans to be rounded up for removal.
In the meantime, the Georgia militia had gone into Indian territory and arrested Samuel Worcester of operating in Indian territory without a state license. Worcester was a missionary who had lived in Indian Territory for most of his life and was well-liked by the Cherokee for the work he’d done helping them with their national newspaper and translating the Bible.
They sued Georgia and This time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign. According to the decision rendered by Justice John Marshall, this meant that Georgia had no rights to enforce state laws in its territory.
In addition, it made the Indian Removal Act invalid, illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties previously made by the United States.
However, President Jackson remarked, “Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”
Trail of Tears
This act authorized the President to negotiate treaties and remove the remaining Eastern Indians to lands west of the Mississippi. Under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, The federal government removed thousands of Indians, some in chains, on a trip marked by hunger, disease and death. This became known as the “trail of tears.” By the late 1840’s almost all native Americans had been moved to lands west of the Mississippi.
Jackson directed the expulsion of the Cherokee nation and used the U.S. Army forces to round them up. Of the 15,000 relocated, 4,000 died on the journey to “Indian Territory” in the present-day U.S. state of Oklahoma.
Although “invalid, illegal, unconstitutional, in violation of treaties and immoral, the Removal Act did have one benefit for the Indians. After they put their lives back together, for 40 years they were able to live independently as independent nations.
They established new governments, schools and many achieved great wealth.
The Dawes Act of 1887
But, by 1880, the United States had expanded westward and the Reservations were surrounded. Settlers had pushed west and had an eye on the land now reserved for Native Americans. In 1887, The Dawes Act was passed.
The act provided for the following:
1. Reservation land divided into 160 acre plots. Each Indian family head given 1 plot.
(Must prove race based on lists used to roundup Indians in 1830’s)
2. Each new land owner who abandoned tribal practices and adopted the “habits of civilized life” would be granted American citizenship.
3. “Surplus” reservation lands would be made available to sell to white settlers.
The Dawes Act did not benefit the Indians.
1. They were forced to accept individual land ownership.
2. It was designed to force adoption of “Americanization /acculturation” in hopes of destroying Indian culture.
3. As a result of the “surplus” land provision the Indians lost 90 million out of 140 million acres of reservation land.
Oklahoma Land Rush 1779
Although the Dawes Act was devastating to Native American culture, it was not the end. The battle rages on even today.
I would like to leave you with a parting thought. Recently a New York tribe won a settlement with the United States based upon an old treaty.
What if Native Americans sued the US to uphold the over 500 treaties still on the books and won