Native American Relations with The United States
What were the significant treaties, policies, and events that defined US Government and Native American Relations? How did the Native American respond to these treaties, polices, and events historically? How did these treaties, policies, and events affect the subsistence, religion, political, and social structures of the Native American people? I will answer these questions through the examination of two centuries of US history in six time periods that define clear changes in the relationship between the Native American and the US Government.
Formative period 1780 -1825
One of the critical tasks that faced the new nation of the United States was establishing a healthy relationship with the Native Americans (Indians). “The most serious obstacle to peaceful relations between the United States and the Indians was the steady encroachment of white settlers on the Indian lands. The Continental Congress, following [George] Washington’s suggestion, issued a proclamation prohibiting unauthorized settlement or purchase of Indian land.” (Prucha, 3) Many of the Indian tribes had entered into treaties with the French and British and still posed a military threat to the new nation.
The new US Government was careful not to antagonize the Indians and sought to treat them with mutual respect. This is evidenced in early treaties where the term “Red Brothers” was used to convey this sentiment of equality. By 1800 interaction between the Indian and white settlers had become quite common through trade. Many Indians traded for household goods, traps and tools. The US became concerned about the cultural differences and sought to improve the Indian station in life by providing education. The United States no longer feared the Indian but rather took a paternal position toward the Indians and the treaty language reflected this when the Indian was referred to as “Our Red Children.”
The US Constitution via Article I section viii (the Commerce Clause) gives the Federal Government dominant power over states in policy making, “The congress shall have the power to . . . regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” The Constitution further enumerates these powers denied to the states in Article I section x. The state of Georgia challenged the federal government’s power over states rights, a precursor to the Civil War, when it challenged the trust relationship and the autonomy of the Cherokee. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall in three decisions (Marshall Trilogy) upheld the United States’ federal power, defined the responsibility of the doctrine of federal trust, and clarified the sovereignty of Indian nations: Johnson v McIntosh 1823, Cherokee v Georgia 1831, Worcester v Georgia 1832.
The new government wanted to keep peace with the Indians and used trade as its device. It was hoped that the interaction between the white...