Indian reservation

Indian reservations
Also known as:
Domestic Dependent Nation
Category Autonomous administrative divisions
Location United States of America
Created 1658 ( Powhatan Tribes)
Number 326 [1] (map includes the 310 as of May 1996)
Populations 123 (several) - 173,667 ( Navajo Nation) [2]
Areas ranging from the 1.32-acre (0.534 hectares) Pit River Tribe's cemetery in California to the 16 million-acre (64 750 square kilometers) Navajo Nation Reservation located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah [1]

An Indian reservation is a legal designation for an area of land managed by a Native American tribe under the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, rather than the state governments of the United States in which they are physically located. Each of the 326 [1] Indian reservations in the United States are associated with a particular Nation. Not all of the country's 567 [3] [4] recognized tribes have a reservation—some tribes have more than one reservation, some share reservations, while others have none. In addition, because of past land allotments, leading to some sales to non-Native Americans, some reservations are severely fragmented, with each piece of tribal, individual, and privately held land being a separate enclave. This jumble of private and public real estate creates significant administrative, political, and legal difficulties. [5]

The collective geographical area of all reservations is 56,200,000 acres (22,700,000  ha; 87,800  sq mi; 227,000  km2), [1] approximately the size of Idaho. While most reservations are small compared to US states, there are 12 Indian reservations larger than the state of Rhode Island. The largest reservation, the Navajo Nation Reservation, is similar in size to West Virginia. Reservations are unevenly distributed throughout the country; the majority are west of the Mississippi River and occupy lands that were first reserved by treaty or ' granted' from the public domain. [6]

Because tribes possess tribal sovereignty, even though it is limited, laws on tribal lands vary from the surrounding area. [7] These laws can permit legal casinos on reservations, for example, which attract tourists. The tribal council, not the local government nor the United States federal government, often has jurisdiction over reservations. Different reservations have different systems of government, which may or may not replicate the forms of government found outside the reservation. Most Native American reservations were established by the federal government; a limited number, mainly in the East, owe their origin to state recognition. [8]

The name "reservation" comes from the conception of the Native American tribes as independent sovereigns at the time the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Thus, the early peace treaties (often signed under duress) in which Native American tribes surrendered large portions of land to the U.S. also designated parcels which the tribes, as sovereigns, " reserved" to themselves, and those parcels came to be called "reservations." [9] The term remained in use even after the federal government began to forcibly relocate tribes to parcels of land to which they had no historical connection.

A majority of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live somewhere other than the reservations, often in big western cities such as Phoenix and Los Angeles. [10] [11] In 2012, there were over 2.5 million Native Americans with about 1 million living on reservations. [12]


Colonial and early US history

From the beginning of the European colonization of the Americas, Europeans often removed native peoples from lands they wished to occupy. The means varied, including voluntary moves based on mutual agreement, treaties made under considerable duress, forceful ejection, and violence. The removal caused many problems such as tribes losing means of livelihood by being subjected to a defined area, farmers having inadmissible land for agriculture, and hostility between tribes. [13]

In 1764 the “Plan for the Future Management of Indian Affairs” was proposed by the Board of Trade. [14] Although never adopted formally, the plan established the imperial government’s expectation that land would only be bought by colonial governments, not individuals, and that land would only be purchased at public meetings. [14] Additionally, this plan dictated that the Indians would be properly consulted when ascertaining and defining the boundaries of colonial settlement. [14]

For much of North America, the American Revolution was more of a battle against the Indians than a war against the British. [14] So when the war was brought to an end with the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the treaty was generally understood by American officials to strip the Indians of all property rights east of the Mississippi River. [14] The treaty was seen by Americans as a confirmation of their conquest of Indian land. [14]

The private contracts that once characterized the sale of Indian land to various individuals and groups— from farmers to towns— were replaced by treaties between sovereigns. [14] This protocol was adopted by the United States Government after the American Revolution. [14]

On March 11, 1824, John C. Calhoun founded the Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) as a division of the United States Department of War (now the United States Department of Defense), to solve the land problem with 38 treaties with American Indian tribes. [15]

Rise of Indian removal policy (1830–1868)

The passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 marked the systematization of a US federal government policy of forcibly moving Native populations away from European-populated areas.

One example was the Five Civilized Tribes, who were removed from their native lands in the southern United States and moved to modern-day Oklahoma, in a mass migration that came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Some of the lands these tribes were given to inhabit following the removals eventually became Indian Reservations.

In 1851, the United States Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which authorized the creation of Indian reservations in modern-day Oklahoma. Relations between settlers and natives had grown increasingly worse as the settlers encroached on territory and natural resources in the West. [16]

Forced assimilation (1868–1887)

Most Indian reservations, like the Laguna Indian reservation in New Mexico (pictured here in 1943), are in the western United States, often in regions suitable more for ranching than farming.

In 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant pursued a "Peace Policy" as an attempt to avoid violence. [17] The policy included a reorganization of the Indian Service, with the goal of relocating various tribes from their ancestral homes to parcels of lands established specifically for their inhabitation. The policy called for the replacement of government officials by religious men, nominated by churches, to oversee the Indian agencies on reservations in order to teach Christianity to the native tribes. The Quakers were especially active in this policy on reservations. [18]

The policy was controversial from the start. Reservations were generally established by executive order. In many cases, white settlers objected to the size of land parcels, which were subsequently reduced. A report submitted to Congress in 1868 found widespread corruption among the federal Native American agencies and generally poor conditions among the relocated tribes.

Many tribes ignored the relocation orders at first and were forced onto their limited land parcels. Enforcement of the policy required the United States Army to restrict the movements of various tribes. The pursuit of tribes in order to force them back onto reservations led to a number of Native American massacres and some wars. The most well-known conflict was the Sioux War on the northern Great Plains, between 1876 and 1881, which included the Battle of Little Bighorn. Other famous wars in this regard included the Nez Perce War.

By the late 1870s, the policy established by President Grant was regarded as a failure, primarily because it had resulted in some of the bloodiest wars between Native Americans and the United States. By 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes began phasing out the policy, and by 1882 all religious organizations had relinquished their authority to the federal Indian agency.

Individualized reservations (1887–1934)

In 1887, Congress undertook a significant change in reservation policy by the passage of the Dawes Act, or General Allotment (Severalty) Act. The act ended the general policy of granting land parcels to tribes as-a-whole by granting small parcels of land to individual tribe members. In some cases, for example, the Umatilla Indian Reservation, after the individual parcels were granted out of reservation land, the reservation area was reduced by giving the excess land to white settlers. The individual allotment policy continued until 1934 when it was terminated by the Indian Reorganization Act.

Indian New Deal (1934–present)

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, also known as the Howard-Wheeler Act, was sometimes called the Indian New Deal. It laid out new rights for Native Americans, reversed some of the earlier privatization of their common holdings, and encouraged tribal sovereignty and land management by tribes. The act slowed the assignment of tribal lands to individual members and reduced the assignment of 'extra' holdings to nonmembers.

For the following 20 years, the U.S. government invested in infrastructure, health care, and education on the reservations. Likewise, over two million acres (8,000 km²) of land were returned to various tribes. Within a decade of John Collier's retirement (the initiator of the Indian New Deal) the government's position began to swing in the opposite direction. The new Indian Commissioners Myers and Emmons introduced the idea of the "withdrawal program" or " termination", which sought to end the government's responsibility and involvement with Indians and to force their assimilation.

The Indians would lose their lands but be compensated (though many were not). Even though discontent and social rejection killed the idea before it was fully implemented, five tribes were terminated: the Coushatta, Ute, Paiute, Menominee and Klamath, and 114 groups in California lost their federal recognition as tribes. Many individuals were also relocated to cities, but one-third returned to their tribal reservations in the decades that followed.

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