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Whose History is Upon Us?

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Whose history is upon us? Right now, the history of white America seems to have gained control of the Supreme Court and much of public policy. This history, of course, maintains a climate of injustice that prevents us from responding in any adequate manner to our environmental crisis.

This climate of injustice has a long legacy, and it’s hard to imagine changing our social climate without some knowledge of its history, especially the history of people who paid the price of American Prosperity. Good intentions, in other words, is not enough. We also need to do our homework.

To that end, I decided to put together a timeline of the interactions between American settlers and American Indians to show a more detailed story of what occurred since 1776. The timeline draws on information I found at Howard University’s Law Library) and the web site: Native Voices.

I borrowed from the Howard University Law Library its framework of seven eras, and then I added the dates of key events to each of the seven eras. Some events may appear self-explanatory, but many are not. You can find brief descriptions of the events at the Native Voices website. Also, this timeline does not include an adequate account of the implicit meaning of these events. Still, to understand who we are, we need to know what we have done. So, here it is:

A Native American Timeline: Seven Eras of Native and Settler Americans after 1776

1. The Treaty Era (1778-1820)

1778: The first U.S. treaty with an American Indian tribe is ratified

1787: Congress can regulate trade with Indian tribes

1789: The Northwest Ordinance guarantees tribal land rights

The Ordinance directs that "the utmost good faith shall always be observed towards Indians: their land and property shall never be taken from them without their consent."

1794: Battle of Fallen Timbers opens Northwest Territory to settlement

1805: Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh call for unity among tribes

1809: Treaty of Fort Wayne takes 3 million acres from Native peoples

1812: War of 1812 breaks Tecumseh's resistance

2. The Removal Era (1820-1850)

1823: Supreme Court rules American Indians do not own land. At core of Supreme Court Decision was the “discovery doctrine.” Native Americans were occupiers of the land, but the Europeans who had “discovered” it owned it.

1824: U.S. establishes Office of Indian Affairs in War Department

1830: President Jackson authorizes Native People’ removal from Georgia

1832: Winnebago-U.S. treaty promises doctor ((Of the 389 treaties with tribes that the U.S. Congress ratified, most promise to send a doctor to the tribes; some promise to operate hospitals for the tribes.

1832: Supreme Court rules U.S. must treat tribes as nations

1838: Cherokee die on Trial of Tears

1849: Indian Affairs moves to Interior Department

3. The Reservation Era (1850-1887)

1851: Congress creates reservations to manage Native peoples

1864: The Navajos begin 'Long Walk' to imprisonment

1864: Citizen-army massacres Sand Creek women, children

1868: President Grant advances "Peace Policy" with tribes

1868: Navajo internment ends, but 2,000 died while imprisoned

1868: U.S. treaty count with American Indian tribes reaches 367

1868: Fort Laramie Treaty promises to provide health care, services

1870: First Ghost Dance movement seeks revival of cultures

1872: General Mining Act gives rise to the taking of tribal lands

1876: Custer defeated; Lakota and Cheyenne prevail

1879: First off-reservation boarding school for Native children opens

1879: Standing Bear argues for Poncas in federal court

1883: Courts of Indian Offenses established

4. The Allotment and Assimilation Era (1887-1934)

1887: U.S. subdivides reservation land; sells off surplus

1887: Indian Affairs Commissioner bans Native languages in schools

1889: Second Ghost Dance movement widespread among tribes

1890: U.S. Cavalry massacres Lakota at Wounded Knee

1890: Native population plunges

1898: Boarding-school epidemics sicken students and kill many

1898: U.S. annexes Hawaii; seizes land; suppresses healers

1917: More Indians are born than die

1918-19: 'Spanish Influenza' claims millions of lives

1924: American Indians granted U.S. citizenship

5. The Self-Government Era (1934-1953)

1934: Commissioner calls for religious freedom for American Indians

1934: President Franklin Roosevelt signs the Indian Reorganization Act

1941: Hawaii under martial law; U.S. military takes sacred lands

1942: Code talkers relay secret military messages during WWII

1944: National Congress of American Indians established

1946: Judicial commission adjudicates Native land claims

1947: Office of Indian Affairs upgraded to bureau

6. The Termination Era (1953-1970)

1953: Congress seeks to abolish tribes, relocate American Indians

1957: Cello Falls fishery, village destroyed by Dalles Dam

1968: American Indian Movement advocates for urban Indian rights

1968: President Johnson signs the Indian Civil Rights Act

1969: 'Indians of All Tribes' group occupies Alcatraz Island

7. The Self-Determination Era (1970-2004)

1970: Termination era ends: self-determination proposed

1973: American Indian Movement occupies Wounded Knee

1974: Study finds American Indian women forcibly sterilized

1974: Indian self-determination becomes the law of the land

1976: Government admits unauthorized sterilization of Indian Women

1980: Maine Indians settle land claims against U.S

1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act

1990: 'NAGPRA' (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) requires return of sacred remains and objects

1991: Tribal self-government expanded

1993: President Clinton apologizes for 1893 overthrow of Hawaiian monarchy

2004: The National Museum of the American Indian opens in Washington DC

Since 2004, of course, the multiple trends of this timeline continue to shape our future. The question is whether our historical knowledge of ourselves helps us understand what we need to change to move from a climate of injustice to a climate of justice.

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