Last Updated: 9 years This is a timeline of European explorer’s interaction with north American indian tribes beginning with Columbus’ voyages in 1492, along with US Government actions taken in the 19th and 20th century.
From their nakedness, Columbus inferred the native people to be an inferior race. Columbus wrote of the Indians he encountered, “They all go around as naked as their mothers bore them; and also the women.” However, he noted that “they could easily be commanded and made to work, to sow and to do whatever might be needed, to build towns and be taught to wear clothes and adopt our ways.” Although Columbus also wrote that “they are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest,” his record of the first encounter between Europeans and New World Indians was filled with accounts of enslavement, murder, and rape.
In May, Ponce de Leon encountered Calusa Indians while exploring the Gulf Coast of Florida near Charlotte harbor. In a fight with the Calusa, de Leon captured four warriors.
On July 8, the first kidnapping in America took place. Florentine explorers kidnapped an Indian child to bring to France.
On April 16, the first significant exploration of Florida occurred when Spanish soldier, explorer, and Indian fighter Panfilo de Narvaez saw Indian houses near what is now Tampa Bay. Narvaez claimed Spanish royal title to the land.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led Mexico’s invasion of the north with an expeditionary force of 300 conquistadors and more than one thousand Indian “allies.” When they reached Cibola, they found not the promised metropolis but “a little, crowded village, looking as if it had been crumpled all up together.” This was the Zuni Pueblo of Hawikuh, whose warriors answered with arrows when Coronado demanded that they swear loyalty to his King. Within an hour, the Spaniards overran the pueblo, and over the next few weeks, they conquered the other Zunis in the region.
Coronado moved his camp to the upper Rio Grande, where his soldiers confiscated one pueblo for winter quarters and looted the surrounding pueblos for supplies. During this operation, a Spaniard raped an Indian woman, and when Coronado refused to punish him, the Indians retaliated by stealing horses. Lopez de Cardenas attacked the thieves’ pueblo, captured 200 men and methodically burned them all at the stake.
Faced with an incipient uprising, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado ordered an attack on Moho pueblo, a center of Indian resistance. His men were repulsed when they tried to scale the walls, so they settled in for a siege that lasted from January through March. At last, when the Moho tried to slip away, the Spaniards killed more than 200 men, women and children in a massacre that pacified the region.
Under pressure from religious leaders, especially the Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas, Spanish Emperor Carlos V attempted to impose “New Laws” on the Spanish colonies, ending the encomienda system that gave settlers the right to Indian slave labor.
The “New Laws” barring Indian enslavement were repealed at the insistence of New World colonists, who developed a society and economy dependent on slave labor
Bartolome de Las Casa, the first priest ordained in the Western hemisphere and chief architect of the now-defunct “New Laws” against Indian enslavement, published Brief Relations of the Destruction of the Indies, which provided many gruesome examples of the colonists’ treatment of Indians.
On November 15, Don Juan Oñate declared possession of Hopi land (in what is now northern Arizona) in the name of the Spanish crown. Four hundred years later, the Hopi have still never signed any treaty with any non-Indian nation.
Europeans of the time held steadfastly to the belief that their introduced diseases were acts of God being done in their behalf. One settler proclaimed while speaking about the deaths of Native Americans, “Their enterprise failed, for it pleased God to effect these Indians with such a deadly sickness, that out of every 1000, over 950 of them had died, and many of them lay rotting above the ground for lack of burial.”
Jamestown is founded in Virginia by the colonists of the London Company. By the end of the year, starvation and disease reduce the original 105 settlers to just 32 survivors. Captain John Smith is captured by Native American Chief Powhatan and saved from death by the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas.
On July 3, Indians brought maize, beans, squash, and fresh and smoked meat to the Jamestown colony. As at Plymouth years later, the colonists and their diseases would eventually exterminate them.
On July 29, Samuel de Champlain, accompanied by 2 other Frenchmen and 60 Algonquins and Hurons, defeated a band of Iroquois Indians near the future Ticonderoga, beginning a long period of French/Iroquois enmity.
Former Dutch lawyer Adrian Block explored Manhattan Island in the ship Tiger. He returned to Europe with a cargo of furs and two kidnapped Indians, whom he named Orson and Valentine.
On May 13, the Viceroy of Mexico found Spanish Explorer Juan de Oñate guilty of atrocities against the Indians of New Mexico. As part of his punishment, he was banned from entering New Mexico again.
A smallpox epidemic decimates the Native American population in New England.
In May, Virginia’s Deputy Governor George Yeardley and a group of men killed 20 – 40 Chickahominy Indians. It was under Yeardley’s leadership that friendly relations between the Chickahominy and the colony ended.
One of the first treaties between colonists and Native Americans is signed as the Plymouth Pilgrims enact a peace pact with the Wampanoag Tribe, with the aid of Squanto, an English speaking Native American.
Peter Minuit, a Dutch colonist, buys Manhattan island from Native Americans for 60 guilders (about $24) and names the island New Amsterdam.
In the colony of Massachusetts the Pequod Indians were the first slaves, but as they “would not endure the yoke,” they were sent to the Bermudas and exchanged for Negroes in the hope that the latter would bear slavery more patiently. The first exchange of Indians for Negroes was made in 1637, the first year of the Pequod war and was doubtless kept up for many years.
On May 26, Captains John Mason and John Underhill attacked and burned Pequot forts at Mystic, Connecticut, massacring 600 Indians and starting the Pequot War.
On June 5, English settlers in New England massacred a Pequot Indian village.
Captain William Pierce of Salem, Massachusetts sailed to the West Indies and exchanged Indian slaves for black slaves.
King Philip’s War erupts in New England between colonists and Native Americans as a result of tensions over colonist’s expansionist activities. The bloody war rages up and down the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts and in the Plymouth and Rhode Island colonies, eventually resulting in 600 English colonials being killed and 3,000 Native Americans, including women and children on both sides.
King Philip (the colonist’s nickname for Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoags) is hunted down and killed on August 12, 1676, in a swamp in Rhode Island, ending the war in southern New England and ending the independent power of Native Americans there. In New Hampshire and Maine, the Saco Indians continue to raid settlements for another year and a half.
July 30, 1676: Bacon’s Rebellion – Tobacco planters led by Nathan Bacon ask for and are denied permission to attack the Susquehannock Indians, who have been conducting raids on colonists’ settlement. Enraged at Governor Berkeley’s refusal, the colonists burn Jamestown and kill many Indians before order is restored in October.
The beginning of King William’s War as hostilities in Europe between the French and English spill over to the colonies. In February, Schenectady, New York is burned by the French with the aid of their Native American allies.
French explorer Pierre Liette had a four-year sojourn in the Chicago area during which he noticed that “the sin of sodomy” prevailed among the Miami Indians, and that some men were bred from childhood for this purpose.
On June 23, former Governor of South Carolina, James Moore, led a force of 50 British, and 1,000 Creek Indians against Spanish settlements. They attacked a Mission in Northwestern Florida. They took many Indians as slaves and killed Father Manuel de Mendoza.
A slave market was erected at the foot of Wall Street and here Negroes and Indians, men, women and children were daily declared the property of the highest cash bidder.
Hostilities break out between Native Americans and settlers in North Carolina after the massacre of settlers there. The conflict, known as the Tuscarora Indian War will last two years.
Yamasee tribes attack and kill several hundred Carolina settlers.
South Carolina settlers and their Cherokee allies attack and defeat the Yamassee.
Jesuit explorer Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix recorded effeminacy and widespread homosexuality and lesbianism among the “Indian” tribes in what is now Louisiana. The most prominent tribes in the area at the time were the Iroquois and Illinois.
Ten sleeping Indians were scalped by whites in New Hampshire for a bounty.
Upon hearing of an impending French and Indian attack upon the Ulster county frontiers, Europeans massacred several Indian families in their wigwams at Walden in the Hudson River Valley.
On November 28, French military forces out of Canada, accompanied by 220 Caughnawaga Mohawk and Abenaki Indians, attacked and burned the English settlement at Saratoga. The 101 inhabitants were either killed or taken prisoner.
In the 1752 census, 147 “Indian” slaves — 87 females and 60 males — were listed as living in French households in what would later be called Illinois. These people were from different cultural groups than the local Native American population and were often captives of war.
On April 9, an Indian slave trader sent a letter to South Carolina Governor J. Glenn asking for permission to use one group of Indians to fight another: “We want no pay, only what we can take and plunder, and what slaves we take to be our own.”
On April 8, Governor Robert Morris declared war on the Delaware and Shawnee Indians. Included in his war declaration was “The Scalp Act,” which put a bounty on the scalps of Indian men, women and boys.
On August 1, the first Indian reservation in North America was established by the New Jersey Colonial Assembly.
Responding to a Comanche attack that destroyed two missions on the San Saba River in central Tejas, a Spanish force of 600 marched north to the Red River where they engaged several thousand Comanche and other Plains Indians fighting behind breastworks and armed with French rifles. The Spaniards were routed, losing a cannon in their retreat, and Comanche raids became a constant threat to settlers throughout Tejas.
Governor Thomas Velez Cachupin had a number of Indians living at Albiquiú [La Cañada, New Mexico] tried for witchcraft sometime after 1762. They were conveniently condemned into servitude.
In May, the Ottawa Native Americans under Chief Pontiac begin all-out warfare against the British west of Niagara, destroying several British forts and conducting a siege against the British at Detroit. In August, Pontiac’s forces are defeated by the British near Pittsburgh. The siege of Detroit ends in November, but hostilities between the British and Chief Pontiac continue for several years.
The Proclamation of 1763, signed by King George III of England, prohibits any English settlement west of the Appalachian mountains and requires those already settled in those regions to return east in an attempt to ease tensions with Native Americans.
An indication of the basic racism inherent in the use of violence by colonial whites can be found in the notorious Paxton Boys. In 1763 this group of frontier thugs did not hesitate to kill dozens of friendly Christian Indians, for they were easier to get at than the hostiles who would put up a fight. The Paxton Boys mostly beat their victims to death, though they did not scruple at using axes. Yet when they marched on Philadelphia to press their claims for more funding and arms for a war against the Indians, they were met by an armed militia, and their forces melted away.
Only some 250 Paxton Boys remained, and they were intellectually outnumbered by Benjamin Franklin, who offered these “white savages” a face-saving out. The western insurgents presented a pro-murder petition to the legislature, an amazing exercise in projection that argued that Indians should be killed because they were prone to massacre innocents. The point is, again, that these white rebels contented themselves with a petition and then went home. The legislature ignored their drivel. In brief, then, personal violence in colonial America appears to have been reserved for despised races.
On December 8, an organization compensating settlers for losses resulting from Indian raids was created by Indian Commissioner Sir William Johnson.
On December 27, a troop of 50 armed men entered the Workhouse at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and hacked to death the only 14 surviving Conestoga Indians (the rest of the tribe having been similarly dispensed with 13 days earlier).
Forced to labor in the mission fields and to worship according to the missionaries’ teachings, the Indians at San Diego rebelled against the Spanish, burning every building and killing most of the inhabitants, including the mission’s head priest. Thanks to a Spanish sharpshooter, the Indians were finally driven off and the Spanish retained control of their outpost.
On May 25, the Continental Congress resolved that it was “highly expedient to engage Indians in service of the United Colonies,” and authorized recruiting 2,000 paid auxiliaries. The program was a dismal failure, as virtually every tribe refused to fight for the colonists.
On July 21, Cherokee Indians attacked a settlement in western North Carolina. Militia forces retaliated by destroying a nearby Cherokee village.
4/5 of the Arikara died of smallpox, measles, etc.
Smallpox wiped out more than half the Piegan Blackfeet.
On March 8, Captain David Williamson and about 90 volunteer militiamen slaughtered 62 adults and 34 children of the neutral, pacifist, and Christian Delaware people at Gnadenhutten, Ohio in retaliation for raids by other Indian tribes.
On April 21, the Presidio, overlooking San Francisco, was erected by the Spanish to subdue Indians interfering with mail transmissions along El Camino Real.
On July 13, the Northwest Ordinance was enacted, stating “the utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians . . . in their property, rights, and liberty they shall never be disturbed.”
First federal treaty enacted with the Delaware Indians.
Indian Commerce Clause of the Constitution is added stating “The Congress shall have Power . . . to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” This clause is generally seen as the principal basis for the federal government’s broad power over Indians.
Indian affairs assignation. Indian agents, who were appointed as the federal government’s liaison with tribes, fell under jurisdiction of the War Department. The Indian agents were empowered to negotiate treaties with the tribes.
The Indian Trade and Intercourse Act is passed, placing nearly all interaction between Indians and non-Indians under federal, rather than state control, established the boundaries of Indian country, protected Indian lands against non-Indian aggression, subjected trading with Indians to federal regulation, and stipulated that injuries against Indians by non-Indians was a federal crime. The conduct of Indians among themselves, while in Indian country, was left entirely to the tribes. These Acts were renewed periodically until 1834.
Military battle between U.S. Army and Shawnee. The army, some 1,500 strong, invaded Shawnee territory, in what is now western Ohio. The Americans were defeated in 1791 after suffering 900 casualties, 600 of whom died.
On March 1, the first U.S. Census count included slave and free Negroes. Indians were not included. Pre-1795
Trading begins between Native Americans and French and Spanish merchants from St. Louis, Missouri.
On November 6, George Washington, in his fourth annual address to Congress, expressed dissatisfaction that “Indian hostilities” had not stopped in the young country’s frontier, north of the Ohio River.
The Treaty of Greenville – This treaty marked the end of an undeclared and multi-tribal war begun in the late 1770s and led by the Shawnees who fought to resist American expansion into Ohio. In 1795, over a thousand Indian delegates ceded two-thirds of present-day Ohio, part of Indiana, and the sites where the modern cities of Detroit, Toledo, and Chicago are currently situated. The Indians, in return, were promised a permanent boundary between their lands and American territory.
Federal law prohibits the sale of liquor to Indians.
The Louisiana Purchase adds to the United States French territory from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northwest.
The Lewis and Clark expedition begins its exploration of the West.
1804 to 1806
Lewis and Clark expedition with Sacagawea. Under direction of President Jefferson, Lewis and Clark charted the western territory with the help of Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian.
The Sioux meet the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Trading posts begin to be established in the west.
Fur trading becomes an important part of Oglala life.
Oglala and other Lakota tribes expand their region of influence and control to cover most of the current regions known as North and South Dakota, westward to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and south to the Platte River in Nebraska.
On March 26, the U.S. government gave first official notice to Indians to move west of the Mississippi River.
The Osage, a Sioux tribe, sign the Osage Treaty ceding their lands in what is now Missouri and Arkansas to the U. S.
1808 to 1812
Tecumseh, Chief of the Shawnees, and his brother known as The Prophet, founded Prophetstown for the settlement of other Indian peoples who believed that signing treaties with the U.S. government would culminate in the loss of the Indian way of life. At the same time, Tecumseh organized a defensive confederacy of Indian tribes of the Northwestern frontier who shared a common goal – making the Ohio River the permanent boundary between the United States and Indian land. Meanwhile, William Henry Harrison, governor or Ohio, began enacting treaties with various tribes.
At a meeting between Tecumseh and Harrison at Vincennes in 1810, Tecumseh declared that he and the confederacy would never recognize any treaties signed with the U.S. government. When Tecumseh was away from Prophetstown in November 1811, Harrison led troops to the town and after the ferocious Battle of Tippicanoe, destroyed the town as well as the remnants of Tecumseh’s Indian confederacy.
On February 8, Russians who built a blockhouse on the Hoh River (Olympic Penninsula, Washington) were taken captive by Hoh Indians, and were held as slaves for two years.
This Treaty of Fort Wayne brought the Delawares, Potawatomi, Miami, and Eel River Miami nations together to cede 3 million acres of their land along the Wabash River to the United States.
Nicholas Biddle of the Lewis & Clark expedition noted that among the Minitaree Indians the effeminate boys were raised as females. Upon reaching puberty, the boys were then married to older men. The French called them Birdashes.
On August 31, Fort Okanogan was established at the confluence of the Columbia and Okanogan Rivers; Indians met the Astorians with pledges of friendship and gifts of beaver.
On November 7, Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s dream of a pan-Indian confederation was squashed when his brother Tenskwatawa led an attack against Indiana Territory militia forces in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Tenskwatawa was defeated.
1813 to 1814
The Creek War was instigated by General Andrew Jackson who sought to end Creek resistance to ceding their land to the U.S. government. The Creek Nation was defeated and at the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Creek lost 14 million acres, or two-thirds of their tribal lands. To count the Creek dead, whites cut off their noses, piling 557 of them. They also skinned their bodies to tan as souvenirs. This was the single largest cession of territory ever made in the southeast.
Blacks and Creek Indians captured Fort Blount, Florida from Seminoles and used it as a haven for escaped slaves and as a base for attacks on slave owners. An American army detachment eventually recaptured the fort.
On July 27, the Seminole Wars began.
On July 27, Fort Blount, a Seminole fort on Apalachicola Bay, Florida, was attacked by U.S. troops. The fort, held by 300 fugitive slaves and 20 Indians, was taken after a siege of several days. The fort was destroyed, punishing the Seminoles for harboring runaway slaves.
Congress passed the Indian Country Crimes Act which provided for federal jurisdiction over crimes between non-Indians and Indians, and maintained exclusive tribal jurisdiction of all Indian crimes.
On April 18, Andrew Jackson defeated a force of Indians and African Americans at the Battle of Suwanee, ending the First Seminole War.
By this year, more than 20,000 Indians lived in virtual slavery on the California missions.
South Carolina settlers and their Cherokee allies attack and defeat the Yamassee.
The U.S. government began moving what it called the “Five Civilized Tribes” of southeast America (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw) to lands west of the Mississippi River.
Johnson v. McIntosh Supreme Court decision – This case involved the validity of land sold by tribal chiefs to private persons in 1773 and 1775. The Court held that that Indian tribes had no power to grant lands to anyone other than the federal government. The government, in turn, held title to all Indian lands based upon the “doctrine of discovery”—the belief that initial “discovery” of lands gave title to the government responsible for the discovery.
Thus, Indian “. . . rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished, and their power to dispose of the soil, at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased, was denied by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it.”
The Indian Office federal agency was established by the Secretary of War and operated under the administration of the War Department. The Office becomes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1849.
Creek chief William McIntosh signs treaty ceding Creek lands to the U.S. and agrees to vacate by 1826; other Creeks repudiate the treaty and kill him.
Creek Indians sign a second treaty ceding lands in western Georgia
Elias Boudinot and Sequoyah begin publishing the Cherokee Phoenix, the first American newspaper published in a Native American language.
Creek Indians receive orders to relocate across the Mississippi River
On April 7, President Andrew Jackson submitted a bill to Congress calling for the removal of tribes in the east to lands west of the Mississippi. On May 28th, the Indian Removal Act was passed, and from 1830 to 1840 thousands of Native Americans were forcibly removed.
On September 15, the Choctaws sign a treaty exchanging 8 million acres of land east of the Mississippi for land in Oklahoma.
On December 22, the State of Georgia made it unlawful for Cherokee to meet in council, unless it is for the purpose of giving land to whites.
1831 to 1832
Two U.S. Supreme Court cases change the nature of tribal sovereignty by ruling that Indian tribes were not foreign nations, but rather were “domestic dependent nations.” As such, both cases provided the basis for the federal protection of Indian tribes, or the federal trust relationship or responsibility.
Black Hawk of the Sauk and Fox tribes agrees to move west of Mississippi.
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia – The Cherokee Nation sued the State of Georgia for passing laws and enacting policies that not only limited their sovereignty, but which were forbidden in the Constitution. The Court’s decision proclaimed that Indians were neither U.S. citizens, nor independent nations, but rather were “domestic dependent nations” whose relationship to the U.S. “resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” In this case, the federal trust responsibility was discussed for the first time.
On December 6, President Andrew Jackson, in his Third Annual Message to Congress, praised the beneficial results of Indian Removal for the States directly affected and the Union as a whole, as well as being “equally advantageous to the Indians.”
On December 25, a force of Black Seminole Indians defeated U.S. troops at Okeechobee during the Second Seminole War.
Worcester v. Georgia – A missionary from Vermont who was working on Cherokee territory sued the State of Georgia which had arrested him, claiming that the state had no authority over him within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. The Court, which ruled in Worchester’s favor, held that state laws did not extend to Indian country. Such a ruling clarified that Indian tribes were under protection of the federal government, as in Cherokee v. Georgia.
On July 23, Eastern Cherokees met in Red Clay, Tennessee to discuss President Jackson’s proposals for their removal to Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. The proposal was rejected and the Cherokees refused to negotiate unless the federal government honored previous treaty promises.
On August 2, some 150 Sac and Fox men, women and children, under a flag of truce, were massacred at Bad Axe River by the Illinois militia.
On January 12, a law was passed making it unlawful for any Indian to remain within the boundaries of the state of Florida.
Indian Intercourse Act – Congress created Indian Territory in the west that included the land area in all of present-day Kansas, most of Oklahoma, and parts of what later became Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. The area was set aside for Indians who would be removed from their ancestral lands which, in turn, would be settled by non-Indians. The area steadily decreased in size until the 1870s when Indian Territory had been reduced to what is now Oklahoma, excluding the panhandle.
The Oglala Tribe becomes more centrally organized with most bands following Chief Bull Bear and rest following Chief Smoke. This was a change from their previous more loosely governed bands with many leaders of comparable influence.
Treaty of New Echota – A portion of the Cherokee nation agreed to give up Cherokee lands in the Southeast in exchange for land in and removal to Indian Territory. A larger group of the Cherokee did not accept the terms of this treaty and refused to move westward.
Seminole War – The second and most terrible of three wars between the U.S. government and the Seminole people was also one of the longest and most expensive wars in which the U.S. army was ever engaged. Thousands of troops were sent, 1,500 men died, and between 40-60 million dollars were spent to force most of the Seminoles to move to Indian Territory—more than the entire U.S. government’s budget for Indian Removal.
In five groups, over 14,000 Creeks were forcibly removed by the U.S. Army from Alabama to Oklahoma.
Two thirds of the 6,000 Blackfeet died of smallpox
Trail of Tears – Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings in 1831 and 1832 that the Cherokee had a right to stay on their lands, President Jackson sent federal troops to forcibly remove almost 16,000 Cherokee who had refused to move westward under the unrecognized Treaty of New Echota (1835) and had remained in Georgia. In May, American soldiers herded most into camps where they remained imprisoned throughout the summer and where at least 1,500 perished. The remainder began an 800-mile forced march to Oklahoma that fall. In all some, 4,000 Cherokee died during the removal process.
On January 30, Seminole leader Osceola died from complications of malaria at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. He led a valiant fight against removal of his people to Indian Territory, but eventually the Seminoles were forcibly relocated.
Forty-eight wagons arrive in Sacramento by way of the Oregon Trail, one of the earliest large groups to make this journey.
Seminole Nation v. United States. The Court held officials of the United States were to be held to the “most exacting fiduciary standards” in performing their duties toward American Indians. Thus, it “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” towards American Indian Nations; i.e., upholding the trust responsibility.
Second Seminole War ends.
Westward migration begins along the Oregon Trail through Plains Indian country.
Thomas H. Hardy, Superintendant of Indian Affairs in St. Louis warns of trouble from declining buffalo herds
The U.S. Government purchases Fort Laramie from the American Fur Company and begins to bring in troops.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (formerly The Indian Office) is transferred from the War Department to the newly-created Department of the Interior.
Physician services were extended to Indians with the establishment of a corps of civilian field employees.
January 24, 1849: James Marshall discovers gold near Sutter’s Fort, California. News of the find begins the California Gold Rush of 1849.
There are 20,000,000 buffalo on the plains between Montana and Texas.
On September 9, California entered the Union. With miners flooding the hillsides and devastating the land, California’s Indians found themselves deprived of their traditional food sources and forced by hunger to raid the mining towns and other white settlements.
Miners retaliated by hunting Indians down and brutally abusing them. The California legislature responded to the situation with an Indenture Act which established a form of legal slavery for the native peoples of the state by allowing whites to declare them vagrant and auction off their services for up to four months.
The law also permitted whites to indenture Indian children, with the permission of a parent or friend, which led to widespread kidnapping of Indian children, who were then sold as “apprentices.”
Extermination of buffalo herds by sports and hide hunters severely limits Plains Indians food supply and ability to survive.
A series of Fort Laramie treaties were signed with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other Plains tribes delineating the extent of their territories and allowing passage across these territories in exchange for payments to the tribes. The extent of Lakota territories were clearly described. Thus began the incursions of miners and wagon trains on the Oregon and later the Bozeman trails, few at first but an onslaught after the end of the Civil War.
Federal commissioners attempting to halt the brutal treatment of Indians in California negotiated eighteen treaties with various tribes and village groups, promising them 8.5 million acres of reservation lands. California politicians succeeded in having the treaties secretly rejected by Congress in 1852, leaving the native peoples of the state homeless within a hostile white society.
On August 5, 1851, Santee Sioux Chief Little Crow signed a treaty with the federal government, ceding nearly all his people’s territory in Minnesota. Though not happy with the agreement, he abided by it for many years.
California began confining its remaining Indian population on harsh military reservations, but the combination of legal enslavement and near genocide has already made California the site of the worst slaughter of Native Americans in United States history. As many as 150,000 Indians lived in the state before 1849; by 1870, fewer than 30,000 will remain.
September 3, 1855: Ash Hollow Massacre – Colonel William Harney uses 1,300 soldiers to massacre an entire Brulé village in retribution for the killing of 30 soldiers, who were killed in retribution for the killing of the Brulé chief, Conquering Bear, in a dispute over a cow.
January 26, 1856: In the first Battle of Seattle, settlers drove Indians from their land so that a little town of white folks could prosper. The sloop Decatur fired its cannon, routing the “Indians.” Two settlers were killed.
In September, the Fancher party, a group of California-bound emigrants from Arkansas and Missouri, arrived in Salt Lake City. According to Brigham Young’s edict, the townspeople refused to sell supplies to the group. They headed south and camped in Mountain Meadows.
On September 7, the Fancher party suffered a coordinated joint attack by Paiute Indians and Mormon militiamen. Many were killed on both sides before the pioneers could gain a tenable defensive position. Then followed five days of siege.
On September 12, the Mormons negotiated a surrender. The local Mormon leader, John Doyle Lee, and 54 Mormon militiamen approached the Fancher party and offered to provide safe passage through the territory. The surviving members of the Fancher party would hand over their livestock to the Paiutes and their guns to the Mormons. In return, the pioneers were guaranteed safe passage from the area.
Once the emigrants accepted the Mormon offer and laid down their weapons, the Mormons opened fire on them. The Paiute, allies of the Mormons, stormed the wagon train, and slaughtered the women and all the older children. When the bloodbath ended, 123 were dead; only 17 young children were left alive. Lee fled the area with his 17 wives and settled in Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.
In 1877, Lee was arrested and tried for his part in the massacre. He was convicted and sentenced to die. On March 23, Lee was brought to Mountain Meadows, where he sat blindfolded on the coffin that was to hold his remains and was executed by a firing squad.
On May 17, 1,200 Coeur d’Alene, Palouse, Spokane, and Skitswich Indians defeated a strong force of Colonel Steptoe near Colfax, Washington, at the village of To-ho-to-nim-me.
On September 17, Colonel Wright dictated terms of surrender to Indians at Coeur d’Alene mission. 24 chiefs of the Yakama, Cayuse, Wallawalla, Palouse and Spokane tribes were shot or hanged.
On February 26, white settlers from Eureka, California attacked and killed 188 members of the Wiyot Tribe on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay. Only one Wiyot member survived — a child named Jerry James, who was the son of chief Captain Jim.
On April 29, Navajo Chief Manuelito and his warriors attacked Fort Defiance in northeastern Arizona. The fort, the first built in Navajo country, was near livestock grazing land used by the Navajo. Conflict began when the army claimed the grazing land for their horses.
1860 to 1864
The Navajo War broke out in the New Mexico Territory as a result of tensions between the Navajos and American military forces in the area. During a final standoff in January 1864 at Canyon de Chelly, fears of harsh winter conditions and starvation forced the Navajo to surrender to Kit Carson and his troops. Carson ordered the destruction of Navajo property and organized the Navajo Long Walk to Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
On February 13, the first military action to result in the Congressional Medal of Honor occurred. Colonel Bernard Irwin attacked and defeated hostile Chiricahua Indians in Arizona.
On February 18, Arapaho and Cheyenne ceded most of eastern Colorado , which had been guaranteed to them forever in an 1851 treaty.
On September 22, in an unprovoked peacetime attack, U.S. Army soldiers massacred visiting Navajo men, women and children during a horse race at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.
On September 22, 500 Apaches led by Cochise attacked the town of Pinos Altos, New Mexico. Three miners and 14 Indians were killed.
Congress passes the Homestead Act making western lands belonging to many Indian Nations available to non-Indian American settlers. This marked the beginning of mass migrations to Indian lands for non-Indian settlement.
August 18, 1862: Beginning of the Sioux Uprising (or Santee War) in Minnesota. The Sioux declared war on the white settlers, killing more than 1,000. They were eventually defeated by the U.S. army, which marched 1,700 survivors to Fort Snelling. Others escaped to the safety of their western relatives. Over 400 Indians were tried for murder, 38 of whom were publicly executed. By 1864 90% of the Santee, and many of the Teton who sheltered them were dead or in prison.
December 26, 1862: The mass execution of 38 Sioux men in Mankato, Minnesota for crimes during the Sioux Uprising. The trials of almost every adult male who had voluntarily surrendered to General Sibley, at a rate of up to 40 a day, were conducted under the premise of guilty until proven innocent. Originally 303 men were condemned to death.
President Lincoln intervened and ordered a complete review of the records. This resulted in a reduced list of 40 to be executed. One was reprieved by the military because he had supplied testimony against many of the others. A last minute reprieve removed one more from the list. A mix-up in properly recording the names of the men and in associating the records with the proper men resulted in one man being ordered released for saving a woman’s life, a day after he was hung.
July 3, 1863: After the end of the Santee Sioux uprising, Little Crow leaves the area. Eventually he returns to steal horses and supplies so he, and his followers can survive. On this day, near Hutchinson, Minnesota, Little Crow and his son stop to pick some berries. Minnesota has recently enacted a law which pays a bounty of $25 for every Sioux scalp. Some settlers see Little Crow, and they open fire.
Little Crow will be mortally wounded. His killer would get a bonus bounty of 500 dollars. Little Crow’s scalp would go on public display in St.Paul. Little Crow’s son, Wowinapa, escapes, but is later captured in Dakota Territory.
The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo – Under the military leadership of Kit Carson, the federal government forced 8,000 Navajo men, women, and children to walk more than 300 miles from their ancestral homeland in northeastern Arizona to a newly-designated reservation at Bosque Redondo in northwestern New Mexico.
The march ended in confinement on barren lands, as well as malnutrition, disease, and hunger. For four years they endured life in this desolate area under virtual prison camp circumstances.
In 1866, the Navajo signed a treaty allowing them to return to their traditional homes to begin rebuilding their communities. In return, the Navajo were forced to promise to remain on the reservation, to stop raiding white communities, and to become ranchers and farmers. In 1868, the government finally returned the Navajo to their homeland.
On June 11, rancher Nathan Hungate, his wife and two little girls were slaughtered in Chivington, Colorado by Indians.
On November 29, 750 Colorado volunteers of the 3rd Colorado Calvary, under the command of Colonel John Chivington (a Methodist pastor), attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village at Arapaho in retaliation for the Hungate’s.
The soldiers scalped the victims, then sliced off women’s breasts, cut out their vaginas, cut the testicles from the men, cut off fingers, raped dead squaws in relays, and used baby toddlers as target practice.
163 Indians were killed; 110 of them were women and children. The dead were left to be eaten by coyotes and vultures. On the way back to Fort Lyon, the soldiers wore the sliced breasts and vaginas atop their hats or stretched over saddlebows. Weeks later, soldiers paraded through Denver, waving body parts of the dead.
After two congressional hearings, Colonel Chivington was driven into exile, and Colorado Governor John Evans was removed from office.
July: General Patrick Conner organizes 3 columns of soldiers to begin an invasion of the Powder River Basin, from the Black Hills, Paha Sapa, to the Big Horn Mountains. They had one order: “Attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.” Conner builds a fort on the Powder River. Wagon trains begin to cross the Powder River Basin on their way to the Montana gold fields.
July 24-26, 1865:
Battle of Platte Bridge – The Cheyenne and Lakota besiege the most northerly outpost of the U.S. army and succeed in killing all members of a platoon of cavalrymen sent out to meet a wagon train as well as the wagon drivers and their escorts.
Late August, 1865:
Battle of Tongue River – Connor’s column destroys an Arapaho village, including all the winter’s food supply, tents and clothes. They kill over 50 of the Arapaho villagers.
Late September 1865:
Roman Nose’s Fight – The Cheyenne Chief, Roman Nose, in revenge for the Sand Creek Massacre, led several hundred Cheyenne warriors in a siege of the Cole and Walker columns of exhausted and starving soldiers who were attempting to return to Fort Laramie. Because they were armed only with bows, lances and a few old trade guns, they were unable to overrun the soldiers, but they harasses them for several days, until Connor’s returning column rescued them.
October 14, 1865:
The Southern Cheyenne chiefs sign a treaty agreeing to cede all the land they formerly claimed as their own, most of Colorado Territory, to the U.S. government. This was the desired end of the Sand Creek Massacre.
Connor returns to Fort Laramie leaving 2 companies of soldiers at the fort they had constructed at the fork of the Crazy Woman Creek and the Powder River. Red Cloud and his warriors kept these men isolated and without supplies all winter. Many died of scurvy, malnutrition and pneumonia before winter’s end. They were not relieved until June 28th by Colonel Carrington’s company.
Late Fall, 1865:
Nine treaties signed with the Sioux including the Brulés, Hunkpapas, Oglalas and Minneconjous. These were widely advertised as signifying the end of the Plains wars although none of the war chiefs had signed any of these treaties.
December 21, 1865:
An illegal Executive Order removed lands from the Oregon Coast Indian Reservation, cutting the territory in half.
The Sioux Nations are angered as the U.S. Army begins building forts along the Bozeman Trail, an important route to the gold fields of Virginia City; Captain Fetterman and 80 soldiers are killed.
April 1, 1866: Congress overrides President Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill, giving equal rights to all persons born in the U.S. (except Indians). The President is empowered to use the Army to enforce the law.
Late Spring 1866: War chiefs Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Standing Elk, Dull Knife and others come to Fort Laramie to negotiate a treaty concerning access to the Powder River Basin. Shortly after the beginning of the talks, on June 13, Colonel Henry Carrington and several hundred infantry men reached Fort Laramie to build forts along the Bozeman trail. It was clear to the chiefs that the treaty was a mere formality; the road would be opened whether they agreed or not. This was the beginning Red Cloud’s War.
July 13, 1866: Colonel Carrington begins building Fort Phil Kearney He halts his column between the forks of the Little Piney and the Big Piney Creeks, in the best hunting grounds of the Plains Indians, and pitches camp. The Cheyenne visit and decide that the camp is too strong for them to attack directly and begin plans for harassing the soldiers who leave the camp and for drawing out soldiers by using decoys. All summer they harasses the soldiers and make alliances with other Plains groups, forming a coalition of Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow groups.
December 21, 1866: Fetterman Massacre – Early in December the young Lakota warriors, including Crazy Horse, executed an elaborate decoy manuever to draw soldiers out of the fort. They were very successful and killed several officers and severely wounded several other soldiers. In the next weeks an ambush was carefully planned and a location for a trap was chosen. Two thousand warriors moved south and set up camp two miles north of the chosen trap location. Ten young warriors were selected from the different tribal groups represented for the most dangerous job of decoying the soldiers. These decoys performed elaborate manuevers to lure the soldiers into the trap. When they were all inside the trap, the decoys signaled to the concealed warriors who rose up and killed all 80 of the soldiers. Nonetheless, casualties among the Indians were great because they were poorly armed to compete with the new repeating rifles of the soldiers. The Indians named this battle The Battle of the Hundred Slain. The whites knew it as the Fetterman Massacre because the soldiers were led by Captain Fetterman, who had boasted that he could defeat the entire Sioux Nation with a single company of cavalrymen. Colonel Carrington was appalled by the mutilation of the bodies they found. Had he seen the bodies of the Indians slain at Sand Creek, the condition of these bodies would have come as no surprise.
1866 to 1867
Red Cloud’s fight to close off the Bozeman Trail – The Oglala Sioux Chief Red Cloud successfully fought the U.S. army in an effort to protect Sioux lands against American construction of the Bozeman Trail which was to run from Fort Laramie to the Montana gold fields.
Summer, 1867: Treaty of Medicine Lodge – After Congress passed a law to confine the Plains tribes to small reservations where they could be supervised and “civilized,” U.S. representatives organized the largest treaty-making gathering in U.S. history. Members from the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas met at Medicine Lodge in Kansas. The Grand Council of 6,000 tribes was attended by Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull, among other great leaders, pledged to end further encroachment by the whites. The treaty ensured that all tribes would move onto reservation lands. Thereafter, the army was instructed to punish Indian raids and to “bring in” any tribes that refused to live on reservations.
Nez Perce Treaty – This was the last Indian treaty ratified by the U.S. government.
Second Treaty of Fort Laramie – This treaty guaranteed the Sioux Indians’ rights to the Black Hills of Dakota and gave the Sioux hunting permission beyond reservation boundaries. The treaty also creates the Great Sioux Reservation and agrees that the Sioux do not cede their hunting grounds in Montana and Wyoming territories. The Army agrees to abandon the forts on the Bozeman Trail and the Indians agree to become “civilized.”
George Armstrong Custer established himself as a great Indian fighter by leading the Massacre on the Washita in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in which Black Kettle is killed. The entire village was destroyed and all of its inhabitants were killed.
In June, Navajos signed a treaty after the Long Walk when Kit Carson rounded up 8,000 Navajos and forced them to walk more than 300 miles to the Bosque Redondo reservation in southern New Mexico. English officials called it a reservation, but to the conquered and exiled Navajos it was a prison camp.
First Sioux War ends with the Treaty of Fort Laramie; the U.S. agrees to abandon Forts Smith, Kearney, and Reno.
Board of Indian Commissioners – Congress created the Board to investigate and report alleged BIA mismanagement and conditions on reservations where corruption was widespread. The Board continued to operate as an investigative and oversight commission that also helped shape and direct American Indian policy.
Federally-sponsored Sac and Fox and Iowa tribes in Nebraska.
Buffalo herds are diminished to a crisis point for Plains Indians.
On January 20, Buffalo Soldiers, under the command of Captain Francis Dodge, came upon a settlement of Mescalero Apaches in the most remote region of New Mexico’s Guadalupe Mountains and attacked them, killing ten Mescalero Apaches and taking 25 ponies.
On January 23, in the Massacre on the Marias, 173 Blackfeet men, women and children were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers on the Marias River in Montana in response for the killing of Malcolm Clarke and the wounding of his son by a small party of young Blackfeet men.
On March 30, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. It finally recognized the natural right of all men to vote, including Indians. Women continued to be second-class citizens.
March 3, 1871: Indian Appropriation Act – This Congressional Act specified that no tribe thereafter would be recognized as an independent nation with which the federal government could make a treaty. (From 1607 to 1776, at least 175 treaties had been signed with the British and colonial governments, and from 1778 to 1868, 371 treaties were ratified the U.S. government.)
All future Indian policies would not be negotiated with Indian tribes through treaties, but rather would be determined by passing Congressional statutes or executive orders. Marking a significant step backwards, the act made tribal members wards of the state rather than preserving their rights as members of sovereign nations.
April 30, 1871: One Hundred Forty-Four Apaches, most of them women and children, were murdered outside Camp Grant, Arizona, where they had been given asylum, when members of the Tucson Committee of Public Safety arrived with a force of Papago Indians, the Apaches’ long-time enemies.
All but 8 of the 144 dead were women and children. They were clubbed to death, hacked to pieces or brained by rocks. The committee members claimed they acted in retaliation for raids by various Apache bands at distant points across the region, but public opinion, particularly in the East, linked the event to the recently investigated Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 as further evidence of Westerners’ deep-seated hatred for Indians.
July 5, 1871: Kiowas, Santana and Big Tree are arrested for murdering wagon drivers in the raid on May 18th. The trail for the two is held in Jacksboro, Texas near Fort Richardson. After three days of testimony they are found guilty. Satanta tells the court, “If you let me go, I will withdrawn my warriors from Tehanna, but if you kill me, it will be a spark on the prairie. Make big fire-burn heap.” Although sentenced to be hanged, the Texas Governor, fearing a Kiowa uprising, decides to commute the sentences to life in a Texas prison. Eventually, Big Tree and Satanta are freed.
The Mining Act of 1872 was passed by the U.S. Congress. Alaskan natives were excluded from claiming ownership to their own land. During this period of history natives were not accepted as citizens of the nation and had no land or load claim rights, something that took many years to change.
Custer and the Seventh Cavalry come to the northern plains to guard the surveyers for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He has a chance encounter with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
On June 5, Alcatraz’s first Indian prisoner known as Paiute Tom started his prison term at the infamous facility. Tom’s stay at the prison was short. He was shot and killed by a guard two days after arriving. It’s unknown today what he was convicted of or why he was killed.
George Armstrong Custer announced the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota, setting off a stampede of fortune-hunters into this most sacred part of Lakota territory. Although the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty required the government to protect Lakota lands from white intruders, federal authorities worked instead to protect the miners already crowding along the path Custer blazed for them, which they called “Freedom’s Trail” and the Lakota called “Thieves’ Road.”
On February 25, the Skokomish reservation was established, near Shelton, Washington.
On July 26, the order was given that friendly Indians were to remain in fixed camps at the Wichita Agency, Indian Territory, and answer periodic roll calls.
On September 10, a group of Kiowa and Comanche attacked a military supply caravan along the Washita River, Indian Territory, in present day Oklahoma. The soldiers barricaded themselves for several days until others came to help. One soldier was killed.
The U.S. government attempts to purchase Paha Sapa (the Black Hills) and fails. Second Sioux War erupts after the Sioux refuse to sell the lands north of the Platte to the federal government.
On November 9, the Indian Bureau reported that Plains Indians outside reservations were “well-fed . . . lofty and independent in their attitudes, and are a threat to the reservation system.”
January, 1876: The U.S. government issues an ultimatum that all Sioux who are not on the Great Sioux Reservation by January 31 will be considered hostile. The winter is bitter and most Sioux do not even hear of the ultimatum until after the deadline.
February 1, 1876: The Secretary of the Interior notified the Secretary Of War that time given to “hostile” Sioux and Cheyenne Indian families to abandon their villages and come into U.S. agencies had expired; it was now a military matter.
February 7, 1876: The War Department authorized General Philip Sheridan to commence operations against “hostile” Lakota, including bands of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
March 17, 1876: General George Crook’s advance column attacked a Sioux/Cheyenne camp on the Powder River in South Dakota, mistakenly believing it to be the encampment of Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. The people were driven from their lodges and many were killed. The lodges and all the winter supplies were burned and the horse herd captured.
Spring 1876: George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry begin to forcibly place the Lakota Sioux onto reservations.
Sitting Bull organizes the greatest gathering of Indians on the northern plains.
May 15, 1876: President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order creating the Cabazon Reservation for the Cahuilla Indians. Prior to the order, the Cahuilla moved many times due to Southern Pacific Railroad’s claim to local water rights.
June 17, 1876: In the Battle of the Rosebud, General Crook is forced to retire from the “pincers” campaign.
June 25, 1876: The Battle of the Little Bighorn – Ignoring warnings of a massed Sioux army of 2,000-4,000 men, Custer and 250 soldiers attack the forces of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. George Armstrong Custer and 210 men under his command are killed. The news reaches the east for the Independence Day Centennial celebrations. In response, the federal government spent the next two years tracking down the Lakota, killing some and forcing most onto the reservation. On July 6, The New York Times referred to those American people as “red devils.”
October 1876: Colonel Nelson “Bear Coat” Miles arrived on the Yellowstone River to take command of the campaign against the northern plains Indians. The Manypenny Commission demands that the Sioux give up Paha Sapa or starve. Having no choice, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and the other reservation chiefs signed over Paha Sapa.
November 25, 1876: The U.S. took retaliatory action for the Battle of the Little Bighorn against the Cheyenne. U.S. troops under General Ronald Mackenzie burned Chief Dull Knife’s village, even though Dull Knife himself didn’t fight at the Little Bighorn.
Nez Perce War – This war occurred when the U.S. army responded to some American deaths along the Salmon River, said to have been committed by the Nez Perce. To avoid a battle that would have resulted in being forced onto a reservation, about 800 Nez Perce fled 1,500 miles. They were caught 30 miles south of the Canadian border. Survivors were sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, despite the promise of the U.S. government to allow them to return to their homeland.
January 15, 1877: Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, refused to move to a reservation because it was within lands already given to the Lakota.
February 28, 1877: The U.S. Government seized the Black Hills from Lakota Sioux in violation of a treaty.
March 23, 1877: John D. Lee was brought to trial for his part in the Fancher Party Massacre of 1857. He was convicted by an all-Mormon jury. On March 23 he was executed by firing squad at the site of the massacre, after denouncing Brigham Young for abandoning him. His last words are for his executioners: “Center my heart, boys. Don’t mangle my body.”
Early May 1877: Sitting Bull escapes to Canada with about 300 followers.
May 6, 1877: Crazy Horse finally surrendered to General George Crook at Fort Robinson, Nebraska on May 6, having received assurances that he and his followers will be permitted to settle in the Powder River country of Montana. Defiant even in defeat, Crazy Horse arrived with a band of 800 warriors, all brandishing weapons and chanting songs of war.
May 7, 1877: A small band of Minneconjou Sioux is defeated by General Miles, thus ending the Great Sioux Wars.
June, 1877: The Ponca arrived at the Otto reservation. They were forcibly marched from their old reservation to Indian Territory. The Otto took pity on the Ponca and gave them some horses to help carry their people.
September 6, 1877: By late summer, there were rumors that Crazy Horse was planning a return to battle, and on September 5 he was arrested and brought back to Fort Robinson, where, when he resisted being jailed, he was held by an Indian guard and killed by a bayonet thrust from a soldier on September 6. He was 36.
Congress passed the Manypenny Agreement, a law taking the Black Hills and ending Sioux rights outside the Great Sioux Reservation. The Sioux land – 134 million acres guaranteed by treaty in 1868 was reduced to less than 15 million acres.
October 5, 1877: Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph surrendered his rifle at Eagle Creek in the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana after months in which his starving band eluded pursuing federal troops: “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
Buffalo have disappeared and Lakota now live on handouts from the Federal Government.
The Northern Cheyenne escape from their reservation in Oklahoma in an attempt to reach their lands in Montana Territory.
January, 1878: A Commission finds the Indian Bureau permeated with “cupidity, inefficiency, and the most barefaced dishonesty.” The department’s affairs were “a reproach to the whole nation.” Carl Schurz had already dismissed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Q. Smith on September 27, 1877. He now discharged many more Bureau employees and began a reorganization of the Indian agents.
The first students, a group of 84 Lakota children, arrived at the newly established United States Indian Training and Industrial School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a boarding school founded by former Indian-fighter Captain Richard Henry Pratt to remove young Indians from their native culture and refashion them as members of mainstream American society. Over the next two decades, twenty-four more schools on the Carlisle model will be established outside the reservations, along with 81 boarding schools and nearly 150 day schools on the Indians’ own land.
On January 14, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe addressed Congress about tribal lands stolen through treaties. He gave the analogy that it was like having horses that he doesn’t want to sell being sold by his neighbor, with the neighbor then letting the buyer take the horses.
In January, the U.S. Army rounded up 540 Paiutes in Oregon and, in what’s known as the Paiute Trail of Tears, forcibly took them to the Yakima Reservation in Washington. On February 2, they arrived at the reservation after a forced march through winter snows.
Civilization Regulations – Congress set up a series of offenses that only Indians could commit. These regulations outlawed Indian religions, the practices of “so-called” medicine men, ceremonies like the Sun Dance, and leaving the reservation without permission. These regulations were in place until 1936.
A Century of Dishonor publication. – Helen Hunt Jackson released her book detailing the plight of American Indians and criticizing the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians.
January 18, 1881: The Spokane Indian Reservation was established.
July 19, 1881: Sitting Bull and 186 of his remaining followers surrender at Fort Buford. He is sent to Fort Randall for two years as a prisoner of war instead of being pardoned, as promised.
Late Summer, 1881: Spotted Tail, is assassinated by Crow Dog – White officials dismiss the killing as a simple quarrel, but the Sioux feel that it was the result of a plot to wrest control from a strong Indian leader.
Congressional Act – Congress provided funds for the mandatory education of 100 Indian pupils in industrial schools and for the appointment of an Inspector or Superintendent of Indian schools.
Indian Rights Association – This organization was created to protect the interests and rights of Indians. The association was composed of white reformers who wanted to help Indians abandon their cultural and spiritual beliefs and assimilate into American society.
On October 24, a federal Grand Jury in Arizona charged civil authorities with mismanagement of Indian Affairs on the San Carlos Reservation.
Ex Parte Crow Dog Supreme Court decision. – Crow Dog, a Sioux Indian who shot an killed an Indian on the Rosebud Reservation, was prosecuted in federal court, found guilty, and sentenced to death. On appeal it was argued that the federal government’s prosecution had infringed upon tribal sovereignty. The Court ruled that the U.S. did not have jurisdiction and that Crow Dog must be released. The decision was a reaffirmation of tribal sovereignty and led to the passage of the 1885 Major Crimes Act which identified seven major crimes, that if committed by an Indian on Indian land, were placed within federal jurisdiction.
A group of clergymen, government officials and social reformers calling itself “The Friends of the Indian” met in upstate New York to develop a strategy for bringing Native Americans into the mainstream of American life. Their decisions set the course for U.S. policy toward Native Americans over the next generation and resulted in the near destruction of native American cultures.
Courts of Indian Offenses – The Secretary of the Interior established these courts to uphold the 1880 Civilization Regulations to eliminate “heathenish practices” among the Indians. The rules of the courts forbade the practice of all public and private religious activities by Indians on their reservations, including ceremonial dances, like the Sun Dance, and the practices of “so-called medicine men.”
In May, Lakota Chief Sitting Bull was released from prison. He rejoined his tribe in Standing Rock where he was forced to work the fields. He spoke forcefully against plans to open part of the reservation to White settlers. Despite the old chief’s objections, the land transfer proceeded as planned. He lived the rest of his life across the Grand River from his birthplace.
On September 8, Sitting Bull delivered a speech, at the celebration of the driving of the last spike in the transcontinental railroad system, to great applause. He delivered the speech in his Sioux language, departing from a speech originally prepared by an army translator. Denouncing the U.S. government, settlers, and army, the listeners thought he was welcoming and praising them. While giving the speech, Sitting Bull paused for applause periodically, bowed, smiled, and continued insulting his audience as the translator delivered the original address.
On November 3, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Indian is by birth “an alien and a dependent.”
Sitting Bull tours with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Major Crimes Act – This Congressional Act gave federal courts jurisdiction over Indians accused of rape, manslaughter, murder, assault with intent to kill, arson, or larceny against another Indian on a reservation. The list was eventually expanded to include 14 crimes.
When U.S. troops pursued a band of Apaches near Pleasanton, New Mexico, the Indians caught the soldiers in a triple cross-fire trap and killed them all.
United States v. Kagama Supreme Court decision. Two Indians on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in northern California killed another Indian on the reservation. They were prosecuted and found guilty by the federal government. The Indians argued that Congress did not have constitutional authority to pass the Major Crimes Act (1885). The Court, however, upheld the full and absolute (plenary) power of the Congress to pass the Major Crimes Act and of the federal government – not state governments – exclusively to deal with Indian tribes.
“These Indian tribes are the wards of the nation. They are communities dependent on the United States – dependent largely for their daily food; dependent for their political rights. They owe no allegiance to the states, and receive from them no protection. Because of the local ill feeling, the people of the states where they are found are often their deadliest enemies. From their very weakness and helplessness, so largely due to the course of dealing of the federal government with them, and the treaties in which it has been promised, there arises the duty of protection, and with it the power.”
Thus, the case challenged the major crime act and its ruling upheld it by implying that because Indian tribes were wards of the US, Congress had the power to regulate tribes, even if it interfered with their sovereign power to deal with criminal offenders on tribal lands.
Geronimo, described by one follower as “the most intelligent and resourceful . . most vigorous and farsighted” of the Apache leaders, surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, after more than a decade of guerilla warfare against American and Mexican settlers in the Southwest. The terms of surrender required Geronimo and his tribe to settle in Florida, where the Army hoped he could be contained.
The Dawes Severalty Act, otherwise known as the General Allotment Act, gives the President power to reduce the landholdings of the Indian nations across the country by allotting 160 acres to the heads of Indian families and 80 acres to individuals. The “surplus lands” on the reservations were opened up to settlement.
On July 16, J. D. C. Atkins, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, wrote in his annual report that English would be the exclusive language used at all Indian schools. He argued that native languages were not only of no use, but were detrimental to the education and civilization of Indians.
Oglala Lakota move to Pine Ridge Agency on South Dakota/Nebraska border.
The Sioux Act – This Congressional Act divided the Great Sioux Reservation into six separate reservations in an effort to dilute their power and make much of their land available for non-Indian settlement.
The Sioux sign an agreement with the U.S. government breaking up the great Sioux Reservation. The Sioux will get six separate small reservations. The major part of their land was thrown open to settlers.
Oklahoma Organic Act – This Congressional Act divided Indian land into two territories in what is currently the state of Oklahoma: the Territory of Oklahoma in western Oklahoma was opened up to non-Indian settlement; and the Indian Territory in eastern Oklahoma was retained for continued Indian settlement.
Two Zuni Indians were hung over the wall of a Spanish church in Arizona on the charge of using witchcraft to chase away rain clouds.
January 1, 1889: A Paiute rancher named Wovoka announced that he had dreamed a vision of a new world set aside for native people and that white people would vanish en masse. It was the birth of the short-lived Ghost Dance religion. February 19, 1889
The Quileut Indian reservation at La Push, Washington was established.
April 22, 1889: In the first “Oklahoma Land Rush,” the U.S. government bows to pressure and opens for settlement land that it had previously promised would be a permanent refuge for Native Americans moved from their eastern territories. Native American tribes are paid about $4 million for the parcel of land. The starting gun sounds at noon, and an estimated 50,000 settlers race across the land; by sunset, all 1.92 million acres have been claimed.
Congress established the Oklahoma Territory on unoccupied lands in the Indian Territory, breaking a 60-year-old pledge to preserve this area exclusively for Native Americans forced from their lands in the east.
May 29, 1890: Charles L. Hyde, a Pierre, South Dakota citizen, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior saying the Ghost Dance was leading to a possible uprising by the Sioux. Prior to the letter, federal agents were not concerned about the Ghost Dance, but soon after, they feared the ceremony.
October 16, 1890: Reservation Police forcibly removed Kicking Bear from Standing Rock Agency, South Dakota, for teaching the Ghost Dance, a visionary ceremony foretelling the disappearance of white people.
December 15, 1890: When Federal troops tried to arrest Sioux Indians in Little Eagle, South Dakota on December 15, Chief Sitting Bull ordered his warriors to resist and he was shot in the back of the head and killed. The aftermath of his death led to the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee.
December 29, 1890: Big Foot’s band of Minneconjous try to reach Pine Ridge and the protection of Red Cloud after hearing of Sitting Bull’s death. Also present were members of the Sioux band led by Chief Spotted Elk. Hungry and exhausted, they had assembled under armed guard as requested to receive the protection of the Government of the United States of America, surrendering their arms and submitting to a forced search of tents and teepees that yielded but two remaining rifles.
Marched to Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, they were disarmed by the U.S. Army. A group of 120 men and 230 women and children were counted by Major Samuel Whitside at sundown on December 28, 1890. The next day an unidentified shot rang out and the well-armed 487 U.S. soldiers ringing the defenseless people opened fire. Afterwards, 256 Sioux lay dead and were buried in mass graves. Twenty (20) Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded the soldiers.
Indian Education – A Congressional Act authorized the Commissioner of Indian Affairs “to make and enforce by proper means” rules and regulations to ensure that Indian children attended schools designed and administered by non-Indians.
Amendment to the Dawes Act – This amendment modified the amount of land to be allotted and set conditions for leasing allotments.
Indian Education – This Congressional Act made school attendance for Indian children compulsory and authorized the BIA to withhold rations and government annuities to parents who did not send their children to school.
Experts estimated that fewer that 2,000 buffalo remained of the more than 20 million that once roamed the Western plains.
More than 100,000 white settlers rushed into Oklahoma’s Cherokee Outlet to claim six million acres of former Cherokee land.
On February 10, the Campo Indian Reservation near San Diego was established for the Campo band of Kumeyaay Indians. The tribe that had dwindled down to 200 members, from 2000 forty years earlier, was given one acre of land.
On January 8, the Yakama signed away 23,000 acres of timberland formerly inhabited by the Wenatchee tribe to the U.S. for $20,000.
Jan-August, 1895: Chief Lomahongyoma and eighteen other Hopi Indians were placed in Alcatraz for their resistance to government attempts to erase the Hopi culture. The nineteen Hopi were jailed for their resistance to farm on individual plots away from the mesas and for refusing to send their children to government boarding schools.
Curtis Act – This Congressional Act ended tribal governments practice of refusing allotments and mandated the allotment of tribal lands in Indian Territory – including the lands of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations.
On March 2, Congress allowed railroad companies blanket approval for rights-of-way through Indian lands.
Lone Wolf v. Hickcock Supreme Court decision – The Kiowas and Comanches sued the Secretary of the Interior to stop the transfer of their lands without consent of tribal members which violated the promises made in the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge. The Court ruled that the trust relationship served as a source of power for Congress to take action on tribal land held under the terms of a treaty. Thus, Congress could, by statute, abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty. Further, Congress had a plenary – or absolute – power over tribal relations.
Antiquities Act – This Congressional Act declared that Indian bones and objects found on federal land were the property of the United States.
Burke Act – This act amended the Dawes Act to give the secretary of the interior the power to remove allotments from trust before the time set by the Dawes Act, by declaring that the holders had “adopted the habits of civilized life.” This act also changed the point at which the government would award citizenship from the granting of the allotment to the granting of the title.
State of Oklahoma – Congress established the State of Oklahoma by merging Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. The former Indian Territory was opened to additional non-Indian settlement.
Winters v. United States Supreme Court decision. Indians from the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana sued to prevent a white settler from damming the Milk River and diverting water from their reservation. The Court found that when Congress created reservations, it did so with the implicit intention that Indians should have enough water to live. Thus, Indians had federally reserved and protected water rights.
Act to Provide for Determining the Heirs of Deceased Indians (“and other purposes”). This act altered the Dawes Act by dealing with inheritance and leasing of allotments and with the allotment of land that could be used for irrigated farming, among many other things.
Society of American Indians—The Society—the first step in the direction of pan-Indian unity – was established and managed exclusively by American Indians, most of whom were well-known in non-Indian society and well-educated. Although members favored assimilation, they also lobbied for many reform issues, especially improved health care on reservations, citizenship, and a special court of claims for Indians.
US v. Sandoval Supreme Court decision. The Court upheld the application of a federal liquor-control law to the New Mexico Pueblos, even though Pueblo lands had never been designated by the federal government as reservation land. The Court ruled that an unbroken line of federal legislative, executive, and judicial actions had “. . . attributed to the United States as a superior and civilized nation the power and duty of exercising a fostering care and protection over all dependent Indian communities within its borders. . . ”
Thus, once Congress had begun to act in a guardian role toward the tribes, it was up to Congress, not the courts, to determine when the state of wardship should end.
World War I – When the U.S. entered the war, about 17,000 Indians served in the armed forces. Some Indians, however, specifically resisted the draft because they were not citizens and could not vote or because they felt it would be an infringement of their tribal sovereignty. In 1919, Indian veterans of the war were granted citizenship.
Native American Church – This Indian church was organized in Oklahoma to combine an ancient Indian practice – the use of peyote – with Christian beliefs of morality and self-respect. The Church prohibits alcohol, requires monogamy and family responsibility, and promotes hard work. By 1923, 14 states had outlawed the use of peyote and in 1940, the Navajo tribal council banned it from the reservation. In1944, the Native American Church of the United States was incorporated. Today, the Church continues to play an important role in the lives of many Indian people.
Indian Citizenship Act – This Congressional Act extended citizenship and voting rights to all American Indians. Some Indians, however, did not want to become U.S. citizens, preferring to maintain only their tribal membership.
Indian Health Division – Congress established the Division to operate under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Meriam Report “The Problem of Indian Administration.” The report, commissioned by the Department of Interior in 1926, focused on the poverty, ill health, and despair that characterized many Indian communities. It recommended reforms that would increase the BIA’s efficiency, and promote the social and economic advancement of Indians: the termination of allotment and the phasing out of Indian boarding schools.
The Indian New Deal – The brainchild of BIA director John Collier, the New Deal was an attempt to promote the revitalization of Indian cultural, lingual, governmental, and spiritual traditions. This blueprint for reform was written by non-Indians who felt they knew how to champion Indian rights.
Johnson-O’Malley Act – This Congressional Act stipulated that the federal government was to pay states between 35 and 50 cents per day for Indian children enrolled in schools.
Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) – The IRA was the centerpiece of the Indian New Deal. It encouraged Indians to “recover” their cultural heritage, prohibited new allotments and extended the trust period for existing allotments, and sought to promote tribal self-government by encouraging tribes to adopt constitutions and form federally-chartered corporations. In order to take advantage of IRA funding, tribes were required to adopt a U.S. style constitution.
Tribes were given two years to accept or reject the IRA. Tribes who accepted it could then elect a tribal council. 174 tribes accepted it, 135 which drafted tribal constitutions. However, 78 tribes rejected the IRA, most fearing the consequences of even further federal direction.
World War II – During the course of the war, about 25,000 American Indians served in the armed forces; another 40,000 Indian men and women were employed in wartime industries. Key among the American Indians participating in WWII were the Navajo and Comanche Code Talkers.
On January 9, a U.S. government press release said 40 percent more Native Americans have enlisted to fight in WWII than have been drafted. Altogether, 25,000 Indians served in the U.S. armed forces, including 800 women. In the Philippines, a Choctaw scout escaped from the Japanese at the battle of Corregidor, and led underground guerrilla forces until the war ended. The Oneidas, Chippewas, and Comanches blocked Japanese decoding of military information by dispatching messages in their tribal languages. Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in the landing at Guadalcanal, where they sent and received reports from field commanders.
National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) – About 100 Indian People met to create the nationís first large-scale national organization designed to monitor federal policies. Today, over 250 member tribes throughout the U.S. work to secure for Indian People and their descendants the rights and benefits to which they are entitled; to enlighten the public toward the better understanding of Indian people; to preserve rights under Indian treaties or agreements with the United States; and to promote the common welfare of the American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Indian Claims Commission Act – The Commission was created to do away with tribal grievances over treaty enforcement, resource management, and disputes between tribes and the U.S. government. Tribes were given five years to file a claim, during which them they had to prove aboriginal title to the lands in question and then bring suit for settlement. The Commission would then review the case and assess the amount, if any, that was to be paid in compensation. Until the Commission ended operations in 1978, it settled 285 cases and paid more than $800 million in settlements.
Trujillo v. Garley Supreme Court decision – In response to the allegation that many states had successfully prohibited Indians from voting, the Court ruled that states were required to grant Native Americans the right to vote.
Termination – Under House Concurrent Resolution 108, the trust relationship with many Indian tribes was terminated. Terminated tribes were then subject to state laws and their lands were sold to non-Indians. Eventually, Congress terminated over 100 tribes, most of which were small and consisted of a few hundred members as most. The Menominee of Wisconsin and the Klamath of Oregon were exceptions with 3,270 and 2,133 members respectively.
Public Law 280 – This Congressional law transferred jurisdiction over most tribal lands to state governments in California, Oregon, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Alaska was added in 1958. Additionally, it provided that any other state could assume such jurisdiction by passing a law or amending the state’s constitution.
Relocation – In order to deal with increasing unemployment among American Indians, the BIA enacted a new policy to persuade large numbers of Indians to relocate into urban areas. Using the lure of job training and housing, brochures depicting Indian families leading a middle-class life were distributed by the BIA. While the initial response was enthusiastic, within five years the relocation program was counted a failure, with 50 percent of the participants returning to their reservations. This was the first of many late 20th Century failures to “mainstream” the Indian population.
Public Law 83-568 – This Congressional law transferred responsibility for American Indians and Alaskan Natives’ health care from the BIA in the Department of Interior, to the Public Health Services within the Department of Health and Human Services.
National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) – This organization sought, and still seeks, to resurrect a sense of national pride among young Indian people and to instill an activist message – Indians were no longer to bow their heads in humble obedience to the BIA and other institutions of white society. Instead, they were to look back to their own great cultural traditions and make decisions about their lives based upon such traditions.
Vietnam War – At least 43,000 American Indians fought in the Vietnam War.
Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) – This Congressional Act revised Public Law 280 by requiring states to obtain tribal consent prior to extend any legal jurisdiction over an Indian reservation. It also gave most protections of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to tribal members in dealings with their tribal governments. ICRA also amended the Major Crimes Act to include assault resulting in serious bodily harm.
American Indian Movement (AIM) – Shortly after the Minneapolis Anishinaabeg formed an “Indian Patrol” to monitor police activities in Indian neighborhoods, AIM was co-founded by Dennis Banks and Russel Means. The new organization was comprised primarily of young urban Indians who believed that direct and militant confrontation with the U.S. government was the only way to redress historical grievances and to gain contemporary civil rights; and that the tribal governments organized under the IRA (1934) were not truly legitimate or grounded in traditional Indian ways. By the 1990s, AIM was still active in Indian affairs, but was less involved in militant confrontation.
“Indians of All Tribes” occupation of Alcatraz – A group of young Indians seized the abandoned Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco harbor. They issued a “Proclamation to the Great White Father” in which they stated their claim that Alcatraz was suitable as an Indian Reservation and thus, should be converted into an Indian educational and cultural center. The Indians of All Tribes continued to occupy AAlcatraz until June, 1971.
Nixon’s “Special Message on Indian Affairs” – President Nixon delivered a speech to Congress which denounced past federal policies, formally ended the termination policy, and called for a new era of self-determination for Indian peoples.
Trail of Broken Treaties – Over 500 Indian activists traveled across the United States to Washington, DC where they planned to meet with BIA officials and to deliver a 20-point proposal for revamping the BIA and establishing a government commission to review treaty violations.
When guards at the BIA informed the tribal members that Bureau officials would not meet with them and threatened forcible removal from the premises, the activists began a week-long siege of the BIA building. The BIA finally agreed to review the 20 demands and to provide funds to transport the activists back to their home. Shortly thereafter, the FBI classified AIM as “an extremist organization” and added the names of its leaders to the list of “key extremists” in the US.
Indian Education Act – This Congressional Act established funding for special bilingual and bicultural programs, culturally relevant teaching materials, and appropriate training and hiring of counselors. It also created an Office of Indian Education in the U.S. Department of Education.
Wounded Knee Occupation – At the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, trouble had been brewing between the Indian activists that supported AIM, and tribal leaders who had the support of the BIA. After a violent confrontation in 1972, tribal chair Richard Wilson condemned AIM and banned it from the reservation.
In February 1973, AIM leaders led by Russell Means and about 200 activists who were supported by some Oglala traditional leaders took over the village of Wounded Knee, announced the creation of the Oglala Sioux Nation, declared themselves independent from the United States, and defined their national boundaries as those determined by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
The siege lasted 71 days, during which time federal marshals, FBI agents, and armored vehicles surrounded the village. AIM members finally agreed to end their occupation under one condition – that the government convene a full investigation into their demands and grievances.
Pine Ridge Reservation Shootout – In June, two FBI agents entered the Pine Ridge Reservation ostensibly looking for a tribal member on theft and assault charges. Shots were fired under confusing circumstances, resulting in the death of the two agents and one AIM member. The violence that ensued was coupled with the criminalization of the AIM movement, the result of which was an undermining of the Indian movement for self-determination.
Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act – This Congressional Act recognized the obligation of the U.S. to provide for maximum participation by American Indians in Federal services to and programs in Indian communities. It also established a goal to provide education and services to permit Indian children to achieve, and declared a commitment to maintain the Federal government’s continuing trust relationship, and responsibility to, individual Indians and tribes.
Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) – Leaders from over 20 tribes created CERT to help Indians secure better terms from corporations that sought to exploit valuable mineral resources on reservations.
Leonard Peltier Arrest – Two years after the siege at Wounded Knee, conditions at the Pine Ridge Reservation had deteriorated. AIM activists and supporters continued to clash directly with tribal Chairman Wilson and his men.
In 1975, two FBI agents were killed and AIM activist Leonard Peltier was arrested, tried, and convicted for the deaths. Sentenced to double life imprisonment, Peltier’s arrest and conviction are still the subject of heated controversy among many American political activists.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) – This Senate resolution re-established the SCIA. The Committee was originally created in the early nineteenth century, but disbanded in 1946 when Indian affairs legislative and oversight jurisdiction was vested in subcommittees of the Interior and Insular Affairs Commission of the House and Senate.
The Committee became permanent in 1984. Its jurisdiction includes studying the unique issues related to Indian and Hawaiian peoples and proposing legislation to deal with such issues – issues which include but are not limited to Indian education, economic development, trust responsibilities, land management, health care, and claims against the US. government.
Report of the American Indian Policy Review Commission – The Commission, established in 1975, issued its report in which it called for a firm rejection of assimilationist policies, increased financial assistance to the tribes, and a reaffirmation of the tribes’ status as permanent, self-governing institutions.
Indian Child Welfare Act – This Congressional Act addressed the widespread practice of transferring the care and custody of Indian children to non-Indians. It recognized the authority of tribal courts to hear the adoption and guardianship cases of Indian children and established a strict set of statutory guidelines for those cases heard in state court.
American Indian Religious Freedom Act – This Congressional Act promised to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise” traditional religions, “including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites.” Although the enactment seemed to recognize the importance of traditional Indian religious practices, it contained no enforcement provisions.
Santa Clara v. Martinez Supreme Court Decision – When a Santa Clara woman married a Navajo, the tribal council denied her children membership in the Santa Clara Pueblo based upon a 1939 tribal ordinance that denied membership to children of women who married outside the tribe. The woman sued to grant membership to her children. The Court held that Indian tribes are “distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights in matters of self-government.” In short, the Court held that the Court itself did not have the right to interfere in tribal self-government issues such as tribal membership.
US v. Wheeler Supreme Court Decision – The Court considered the question of whether the power to punish tribal offenders is “part of inherent tribal sovereignty, or an aspect of the sovereignty of the Federal Government which has been delegated to the tribes by Congress.”
He concluded: “The sovereignty that the Indian tribes retain is of a unique and limited character. It exists only at the sufferance of Congress and is subject to complete defeasance. But until Congress acts, the tribes retain their existing sovereign powers. In sum, Indian tribes still possess those aspects of sovereignty not withdrawn by treaty or statute, or by implication as a necessary result of their dependent status.”
In short, Indian nations were sovereign, but such sovereignty was limited and subject to Congressional whim.
Federal Acknowledgment Project – This Congressional Act established the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research within the BIA to evaluate the claims of non-recognized Indian tribes for Federal acknowledgement. The project created a uniform process for reviewing acknowledgement claimants with widelly varying backgrounds and histories. In 1994, the Project regulations were amended.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida and Gaming – The Seminoles were the first tribe to enter into the bingo gaming industry. Their endeavors encouraged other tribes to begin gaming enterprises on reservations as a step towards greater economic self-sufficiency.
United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians – U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sioux Indians were entitled to an award of $17.5 million, plus 5% interest per year since 1877, totaling about $106 million in compensation for the unjust taking of the Black Hills and in direct contravention of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Sioux have refused to take the money and sits in a trust fund in Washington, collecting interest.
July 9, 1981
The Lakota Times is first published.
Indian Mineral Development Act. This Congressional Act encouraged Indian tribes to mine their lands in a manner that would help them become economically self-sufficient.
Seminole Tribe v. Butterworth Supreme Court Decision – The Court ruled that tribes have the right to create gambling enterprises on their land, even if such facilities are prohibited by the civil statutes of the state. The ruling enabled reservations to establish casinos, as well as gave reservations greater authority for tribal governments to levy taxes, own assets, and create judiciaries.
California v. Cabazon Supreme Court Decision – The Cabazon tribe in Southern California operated a high stakes bingo game and card club on reservation lands. The State claimed that it had the legal authority to prohibit such activities on Indian lands located within California if such activities were prohibited elsewhere in the State. The Court found that states which permitted any form of gambling could not prohibit Indians from operating gambling facilities.
Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Association Supreme Court Decision – The Yurok Indians and several other Northern California tribes argued that the construction of a 6-mile, two-lane paved road between the towns of Gasquet and Orleans (the G-O Road) and the implementation of a timber management plan would interfere with traditional tribal religions. The Court held that construction of the road did note violate their freedom of religion. Thus far, the road has not been built due to an administrative decision.
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) – This Congressional Act affirmed the right of tribes to conduct gaming on Indian lands, but made it subject to tribal/state compact negotiations for certain types of gaming.
Native American Languages Act – This Congressional Act made it U.S. policy to “preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages.”
Consequently, the federal government encourages and supports of the use of native languages as a medium of instruction in schools; recognizes the right of Indian tribes to give official status to their languages for conducting their own business; supports proficiency in native languages by granting the same academic credit as for comparable proficiency in a foreign language; and encourages schools to include native languages in the curriculum in the same way as foreign languages.
Today, many American Indian languages have been lost; less than 100 languages currently are spoken by Indians.
Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) – The Congressional Act is intended to promote Indian artwork and handicraft businesses, reduce foreign an counterfeit product competition, and stop deceptive marketing practices.
Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act – This Congressional Act required all institutions that receive federal funds to inventory their collections of Indian human remains and artifacts, make their lists available to Indian tribes, and return any items requested by the tribes.
Indian Law Enforcement Act – This Congressional Act created a unified approach to the BIA’s provision of law enforcement serives on reservations.
Foxwoods Casino of Connecticut – The Mashantucket Pequots opened the first large casino in the United States
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – This Congressional Act stated that state governments “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except if such exercise of religion conflicts with “a compelling government interest.” On June 25, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court declared RFRA unconstitutional as it applied to the states.
American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Amendments – This Congressional Act protected the rights of American Indians to use peyote in traditional religious ceremonies.
President Clinton’s Executive Memorandum, April 29th – The president sought ìto clarify our responsibility to ensure that the Federal Government operates within a government-to-government relationship with federally recognized Native American tribes. I am strongly committed to building a more effective day-to-day working relationship reflecting respect for the rights of self- government due the sovereign tribal governments.
National American Indian Heritage Month – President Clinton declared November of each year to be National American Indian Heritage Month.
Executive Order, October 21 on Tribal Colleges and Universities – President Clinton authorized a White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities within the U.S. Department of Education to continue the support and development of tribal colleges into the 21st Century.
Shannon County, South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge Reservation is identified as the poorest place in the country.