Native American Civil Rights in the USA 1865-1992


Native American Civil Rights

-       Period from 1865 to 1992 to saw a significant change in position. Little progress until the latter decades- progress towards self-determination.

-       Wanted to preserve customs, laws.

-       Lifestyle contrasted completely with white settlers

The Plains Indians

Most Native American tribes lived here. Nomadic, followed the buffalo. Some tribes moved here after White Americans took over the East coast – had decided the plains were inhospitable.


-       Worshipped nature

-       Nomadic

-       Own tribal rules and government

-       Own languages

-       Own culture and ceremonies

Threats to Native Americans

Ø  Manifest destiny

Ø  Assimilation

Ø  1830 Removal Act – lead to Trail of Tears

Ø  Discovery of Gold

Ø  Hunting of Buffalo (became dependent on govt. for food)

Ø  Railroads

The Plains Wars 1862 – 68

-       Outbreak of the Civil War – govt. withdrew troops from the plains, stopped providing food. Volunteer troops had little interest in the Indians.

-       Many men, women and children died as a result of these wars

Native Americans and the loss of land

o   Loss of land mostly due to treaties – govt. deceived with treaties NA thought were final, not temporary.

o   E.g. Fort Laramie Treaty 1851, Fort Wise Treaty 1861, Medicine Lodge Treaty 1867, Fort Laramie Treaty 1868.

o   More settlers encouraged to go West – passed a Homestead Act in 1862 – brought another 20,000 settlers onto the Plains.

At the start of this period their way of life was already under threat:

-       Given away land

-       Buffalo nearly become extinct

-       Little to no support or help from the government

-       Government policy had weakened their position

1865 – 1914 – The progress and development of Native American rights

-       Aim of the govt. in this period was to assimilate. Through: Reservation policies, education, conversion to Christianity, the Dawes Act. (farming)

Reservation Policy

-       Started in the 1850s, prevented free movement of the tribes. Facilitated by treaties. Govt. enforced policies such as forbidding polygamy, herbal remedies, abolishing tribal laws, ending communal living, ending powers of the tribal chief, sending children to Christian schools where they were forced to renounce their beliefs, prohibited them from speaking their tribal languages.

-       However, (?) still preserved some elements of tribal lifestyle – still together as a community.

The Dawes Act

Ø  Divided reservations into allotments, undermining belief that land was communal, forced them into farming. Land generally unsuitable for crops – sold it to whites – even less land.

Supreme Court cases

-       1914 – land given in treaties had been taken away

-       Cherokee Nation vs Hitchcock 1902

-       Lone Wolf vs Hitchcock 1903 – SC upheld the right of the fed. govt. to break treaties & take away more land.

NA lost their identity & pride – relied on the govt. to survive.




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