The Political Freedoms Denied to the American Indians During the 1800s

The U.S. government took 8 million acres from the Choctaw Indians.
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The 1800s marked the quest for peace between the American Indians and the U.S. government. Land that was once American Indian property slowly slipped into the hands of white settlers. Treaties and agreements were introduced to bring order and encourage assimilation. The American Indian people soon learned that survival was predicated on conforming to the white man’s way. Stripped of their ability to function autonomously and lacking recognition as American citizens, the Indian people experienced tumult and unrest.

1 Religious Freedom

The U.S government was fearful of Native American religious practices because they felt they would result in activist behavior. This concern was underscored by the massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890. In an effort to exercise control over their behavior, the U.S. government outlawed all religious practices by the American Indians. This meant that the native peoples were prohibited from participating in religious ceremonies or exercising their religious freedom in any form. The government felt they could impose this restriction because American Indians were not citizens.

2 Land Rights

The Dawes Act of 1887 took back reservation land and gave small plots of new land to each registered American Indian. American Indians were moved from land they called home and sent to locations that were often undesirable. The government stated this new policy was to protect land rights for American Indians but instead, it served as a way to disrupt their way of life and encourage them to become a part of white culture. The Dawes Act came when more land was needed for white settlers. Abolishing the treaty system was a way to minimize the power of tribal leaders and threaten American Indian sovereignty.

3 Native Languages

The U.S. government used the boarding school system as a way to strip American Indians of the right to speak their native languages. American Indian children were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools for several years. The goal was to reprogram them according to the white man’s culture and ways. They were forbidden to speak their language and punished severely if they disobeyed. Eliminating native language from American Indian youths was a way to erase native identity.

4 Free Trade

Further control of American Indians came in the form of regulating trade. Trade between American Indians and white settlers was restricted to trading houses. The war department was given the responsibility of overseeing transactions and instituting fines for black market activity. The government used the control of trade to encourage assimilation of native people. If they had to use the trading houses to sell furs, they would be more likely to acquire items common to the white way of life. This was another way that American Indian sovereignty was challenged and in the long run, diminished.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.