Native American Civil Rights

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Manifest Destiny

Westwards expansion.

The belief held by white Americans that it was their divine right to expand to the west and the land had been given to them by God.

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Since 1851 with the first Fort Laramie Treaty, Indians had been signing over land to the government for peace or other, often smaller, plots of land.

These treaties restricted their freedom to follow the Buffalo --> starvation which was increased during the civil war when the food aid being sent to them often never reached them.

The treaties were repeatedly broken the by the Federal Government and the Native Americans were forced onto reservations.

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Homestead Act 1862

Lands previously belonging to indians available to white americans- encouranged settlement in the West.

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Time of hostility between tribes and federal troops over land.

Series of 'wars' e.g. Sand Creek Massacre 1864- troops attacked undefended cheyenne camp.

The Plains Wars 1862- 67

The signing of treaties handing over land to the government.

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Assimilation and Reservation Policy

All forced to live together on reservation land- despite inter-tribe hostilities.

Plan was for americanisation- turning them into american farmers.

All children were to have an american education and all indians had to convert to christianity.

There was to be no communal living, polygamy and tribal laws were removed.

Some tried to defy the system e.g, the Souix when they escaped which led to the Battle of Little Bighorn1876- Soiux killed general custer and his men. As punishment their reservation was reduced and some were left to starve.

Denied Civil Rights as they were under government aid and did not pay tax.

Due to drought and disease epidemic, Indians relied soley on food from the government, which often never reached them so over half of the indian population was reduced due to starvation.

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Massacre at Wounded Knee 1890

Due to fear from whites that there was to be a mass Indian Uprising.

Shot sioux leader sittingbull, so fled to Chief Bigfoot where they were rounded up and shot.

200 unarmed men, women and children were killed in open fire.

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Education of Native Americans

It was compulsary- taught on reservation schools, however there were issues of language barriers and lack of teachers due to the harsh condtions.

Some children were sent to out of reservation boarding schools, which taught essential skills.

They had their hair cut short and had to wear uniforms.

Children were harshly punished if they spoke in thier native tounge.

They were sent to live with white families for 3 years were they laboured or were servants.

The end result was to try to cut ties with old traditions for the new generation of Indians.

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Dawes Act 1887

In response to the failure of Reservations to Americanise indians.

Divided the land into 160 acres lotts per family to farm.

And opened up to settlers.

They also had to pay tax --> full citizenship rights; this was however hindered by the fact that they were faced with a lot of discrimination.

Many failed in farming and their land was bought for little money by settlers.

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Indian Education Act 1893

Made going to school compulsary.

Those that did not send their children to school had their rations reduced and other government aid removed.

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Curtis Act 1898

Was an amendment to the Dawes Act.

It made mandatory the allotment of land to the 5 civilised tribes of Oklahoma, who had previously been exempt from the Dawes Act.

Took away their freedom and right to still practice tribal laws.

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Indian Rights Association

Set up in 1882.

Concentrated on assimilation of Native Americans in order to improve their wellbeing.

Concentrated on religious aspects of tribal life.

Shaped Indian Policy in the 1930's.

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The Melting Pot 1908

A play that  promoted the idea that in the USA people of different nationalities and origins fuse together into one nation.

The melting pot underpinned policies of Indian Assimilation.

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Lone Wolf v Hitchcock 1903

Supported the power of the US government to revoke all treaties and re-asign land as they wished.

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The Society of American Indians 1911

Educated indians that advocated assimilation and wanted to form an inter-tribal pressure group.

They lobbied for improvements in healthcare and education on Reservations and right to citizenship.

However their lack of funding meant they were unable to challenge discrimination in court.

They had no mass support as most indians were against the idea of assimilation.

It collapsed in the early 1920's.

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Many indians served in the war, intergrated with the white troops. This was important as it allowed for socialisation with the white american.

Fed.govt sponsored many to move to towns = war time labour --> started urbanisation of the Native Americans.

In 1919- N.A. war veterans were granted citizenship.

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The Dance Order 1923

Banned Pueblo Indians from performing traditional dance.

It was seen as a direct attack on their civil and religious rights.

Led to the set up of AIDA whose aim was to protect tribal traditions.

Led by John Collier.

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Indian Citizenship Act 1924

Gave them citizenship and voting rights.

Reward for indian help in WW1 + helped assimilation.

Was not wanted by indians avoiding assimilation.

2/3 of Indians could already vote.

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Meriam Report 1928

Condemed govt for depriving Indians of land and basic education + health care on the reservations.

Critised assimilation for the first time.

Claimed that N.A. to be the most impoverished group in US.

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Indian Reorganisation Act 1934 (New Deal)

Pushed by John Collier- it was the revival of Indian culture.

It included indians being able to: have more authority over land, indian women to be educated, funding to tribes to buy back land, reservations enlarged + new ones formed + better conditions.


  • by 1938- population had increased rapidly due to better healthcare.
  • reintroduction of native americans into indian Bureau --> make indian policies.
  • revival of tribal councils --> re-emergence of tribal cultures.
  • Ended alottment process + received funding from govt to support economic development.


  • attempt by govt to further push assimilation - recognising benifits of education and healthcare.
  • Many native americans didn't want the change- liked alotments/ assimilation.
  • Federal funds not sufficient enough to buy back land.
  • a lot of John Collier's original bill was compramised- didn't want to give full authority back to native americans. 
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  • 100,000 indians left reservations to either fight or take jobs in urban cities.
  • Those that remained on reservations= great hardship, due to lack of resources and funding from govt due to it being spent on the war.
  • many Japanese americans were also relocated to indian reservation land.
  • returning indian soldiers were forced back to reservations due to discrimination, rather than reaping the benifits from of being war veterans.
  • most workers driven back to reservations due to discrimination and competition for jobs after the war.
  • NCAI set up 1944.
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NCAI 1944

worked on the idea that in order to bring change, indians had to unite in protest.

Response to moves trying to end reservations and throw Indians into american society.

Worked through the courts- challenging discrimination in work, education and breaking of treaties.

Beginning of Indian protest movement and unity of tribes.

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Indian Claims Commission 1946-78

In response to pressure from the NCAI.

The means whereby indians could file in order to regain land.

However, many claims weren't settled, and when they were money was given instead of the land.

Form of assimilation.

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Harrison v Laveen 1948

Ruled two native americans in arizona eligable to vote.

Fought by NCAI.

Many states still ignored the decision and discriminated against N.A.

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Termination Policy 1953

Hasten total assimilation.

Govt stopped viewing indians as wards of the govt, and stopped recognising tribes and treaty rights.

The policy gave Indians american rights, and they were recognised as self, supporting american citizens.

The indian land was sold on.

Due to high unemployment, BIA encouraged Indians to move to urban cities from reservations, initial response was high, however it was ultimately perceived as a failure.

Ended in 1968 by Lyndon Johnson who saw the v.poor position of Indians and set up housing and education programmes for the Indians.

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Urbanisation 1960's

60,000 left reservations for cities.

Benifited from affirmative action that banned discrimination in the workplace on account of ethnicity.

However, by 1960 highest unemployment rates and extremely poor housing.

Faced with high white hostility.

Life expectancy 20 years lower than national average.

Instead of assimilation- it achieved quite the opposite.

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American Indian Movement 1968

Young Urban Indians.

Direct and militant confrontation  with US government was the only way to redress historical grievences and gain contemporary civil rights.

Tribal governments under IRA not truely legitimate in preserving Indian culture.

Advocated red power.

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Seige of Alcatraz 1969-1971

Led by Richard Oakes.

The aim was to reclaim the island land that formally belonged to a tribe- however this was rejected.

The site was chose as a symbol of imprisonment in poverty on the reservations of Indians.

It had huge media coverage as the police and militia tried to end- reversed the story of old western films, this time the Indians were the heroes.

It galavanised many other young indians into action under AIM- many started occupying other pieces of federal land and defying federal laws.

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Red Power 1970's (AIM)

1971- mount rushmore occupation disputes still over who it belongs too. Set up camp and renamed it mount crazyhorse.

1972- AIM took control of the BIA in washington.

1973- wounded knee occupation.

High publicity of the AIM protests showed the world previous injustices and brought about change in policy.

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1973 Wounded Knee Occupation

Disputes between AIM and supporters of BIA.

AIM leaders + 200 activists took over village of wounded knee and declared it an independent state and showed its boundries as those stated in the 1968 Fort Laramie Treaty.

It lasted 71 days.

AIM finally surrendered on the condition that a full investigation was made on their demands and grievances.

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Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance

Gerald Ford.

Self determination act- allowed tribes to negotiate contracts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take responsibility for own health, education and social service.

Had federal funding.

tribes --> self suficiency.

Education Assistance Act- gave parents some say in education by being allowed to be members of health boards.

However funding reduced in 1970's --> reduced effects of act.

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NARF 1970

Defend rights of N.A. and preserve tribal culture + way of life, reinstated terminated tribes and restored lost tribal lands.

Was responsible for supremem court cases:

  • 1974- oneida v oneida and Madison Counties- sue for loss of land- supreme court supported this.
  • 1980 US v the Sioux Nation- sioux indians due $17.5 million dollars compensation, but the Sioux refused this as they wanted their land.
  • 1986- any remains dug up in lousianna belonged to Native Americans --> many states passing laws protecting Indian Burial Grounds.

By reasserting rights under treaties, a number of tribes regained some lost land + financial compensation.

Recognition of self- determination and spiritual freedom brought greater pride in their heriatge.

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Regained much of what had been lost since 1865 + federal govt finally abandoned policy of assimilation.

Indians abandoned tribal rivalries and united as one to fight for rights.

Unemployment still remained high.

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