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In 1851, the United States Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which authorized the creation of Indian reservations in modern day Oklahoma. Relations between settlers and natives had grown increasingly worse as the settlers encroached on territory and natural resources in the West.
By the late 1860s,President Ulysses S. Grant pursued a stated “Peace Policy” as a possible solution to the conflict. The policy included a reorganization of the Indian Service, with the goal of relocating various tribes from their ancestral homes to parcels of lands established specifically for their inhabitation.
The policy called for the replacement of government officials by religious men, nominated by churches, to oversee the Indian agencies on reservations in order to teach Christianity to the native tribes. The Quakers were especially active in this policy on reservations. The “civilization” policy was aimed at eventually preparing the tribes for citizenship.
Reservation treaties sometimes included stipend agreements, in which the federal government would grant a certain amount of goods to a tribe yearly. The implementation of the policy was erratic, however, and in many cases the stipend goods were not delivered.
Reservations were established by Executive Order
The policy was controversial from the start. In many cases, white settlers objected to the size of land parcels, which were subsequently reduced. A report submitted to Congress in 1868 found widespread corruption among the federal Native American agencies and generally poor conditions among the relocated tribes.
Many tribes ignored the relocation orders at first and were forced onto their new limited land parcels. Enforcement of the policy required the United States Army to restrict the movements of various tribes. The pursuit of tribes in order to force them back onto reservations led to a number of Native American Wars.
The most well known conflict was the Sioux War on the northern Great Plains, between 1876 and 1881, which included the Battle of Little Bighorn. Other famous wars in this regard included the Nez Perce War.
By the late 1870s, the policy established by President Grant was regarded as a failure, primarily because it had resulted in some of the bloodiest wars between Native Americans and the United States. By 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes began phasing out the policy, and by 1882 all religious organizations had relinquished their authority to the federal Indian agency.
General Allotment broke reservations into small family parcels and allowed whites to take the rest
In 1887, Congress undertook a significant change in reservation policy by the passage of the Dawes Act, or General Allotment (Severalty) Act. The act ended the general policy of granting land parcels to tribes as-a-whole by granting small parcels of land to individual tribe members.
In some cases, for example the Umatilla Indian Reservation, after the individual parcels were granted out of reservation land, the reservation area was reduced by giving the excess land to white settlers. The individual allotment policy continued until 1934, when it was terminated by the Indian Reorganization Act.
The Indian New Deal
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, also known as the Howard-Wheeler Act, was sometimes called the Indian New Deal. It laid out new rights for Native Americans, reversed some of the earlier privatization of their common holdings, and encouraged tribal sovereignty and land management by tribes. The act slowed the assignment of tribal lands to individual members, and reduced the assignment of ‘extra’ holdings to nonmembers.
For the following twenty years, the U.S. government invested in infrastructure, health care, and education on the reservations, and over two million acres (8,000 km²) of land were returned to various tribes. Within a decade of John Collier’s retirement (the initiator of the Indian New Deal) the government’s position began to swing in the opposite direction.
The new Indian Commissioners Myers and Emmons introduced the idea of the “withdrawal program” or “termination”, which sought to end the government’s responsibility and involvement with Indians and to force their assimilation. The Indians would lose their lands but be compensated (though those who lost their lands often were not.)
Though discontent and social rejection killed the idea before it was fully implemented, five tribes were terminated: the Coushatta, Ute, Paiute, Menominee and Klamath, and 114 groups in California lost their federal recognition as tribes. Many individuals were also relocated to cities, but one third returned to their tribal reservations in the decades following.