Throughout the history of North America, there has been one ethnic group who has given up almost everything to the European settlers. Land, home, resources, and dignity were stolen from Native Americans. The long history of the American Indian is being written, even today. Approximately forty thousand years ago, the earliest ancestors of Native Americans migrated across the Bering Strait from Asia on pack ice (Hoerder, 2005). The population rose steadily, and by the time the first substantial settlement of Europeans was established in the New World, Native Americans lived throughout the continent.
In the search for more farmland, European immigrants quickly pushed the native population out of their traditional homelands. This migration began the crowding of other native bands, forcing eastern natives to move beyond the Ohio River, thus starting a series of relocations for the Native Americans that continued through the next two centuries. Less than fifty years after the end of the American Revolution, many of the tribes in the northeastern United States sold their land under pressure from the newcomers. Before 1850, these natives migrated west of the Mississippi River.
If you traveled to Oklahoma today you would find the same bloodlines that once roamed the New England hills (“Indians” The Reader’s Companion to American History, 1991). Wanting to live apart from the natives and expecting them to remain controlled, reservations were established, including an Indian Territory (est. 1825) in present-day Oklahoma. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was enacted to populate these newly established areas. President Jackson ordered the forced migration of Native Americans from multiple southeastern tribes.
Approximately 4,000 Cherokee Indians perished in 1838-1839 on their 800-mile march, or during their succeeding internment. This tragic event has become known as the “Trail of Tears”. (American Indian Policy, 2002) Trying to “Americanize” instead of segregate the Indians, in 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act, which broke up reservations and gave land to individual Indian families. The idea of the Dawes Act was to assimilate Indians by giving them land from which they could profit.
What followed were laws, over the next few decades, which dissolved tribal governments and placed Native Americans completely under the jurisdiction of U. S. laws (American Indian Policy, 2002). The reservation system is one distinctive aspect of the Native American culture that materialized from their relationship with other Americans. The United States has 310 reservations within its borders. The federal government owns 298 reservations and 12 belong to the states in which they are located. A total of 437,431 Indians resided on reservations or trust lands. That is approximately 22 percent of the Native Americans defined by the 1990 census (Shumway & Jackson, 1995). The United States has proven itself unreliable on its policies and treatment of Native Americans.
The government teeters between a policy of segregation, under which Indians are treated as a self-sustaining culture, and assimilation policies, which try to integrate Indian and European cultures. The United States acknowledged Indian sovereignty and established treaties with them. Unlike foreign nations, Indians shared the continent with the quickly growing nation who needed resources, and were quick to form treaties, giving Indians land rights and territorial sovereignty but repeatedly found ways to revoke those privileges.