Indian Appropriations Act

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Indian Appropriations Act

As people in the United States began migrating west in great numbers in the nineteenth century, the government found itself with a problem on its hands. In order to entice white citizens and immigrants to risk everything they owned to settle in the western territories, the government needed something to offer, so it offered land for a very low price, or completely free. But those lands were already occupied by Native Americans who had lived there for many generations.

Like other groups throughout history, Native Americans were viewed through prejudiced eyes. They were considered inferior to whites and were treated unfairly. The federal government saw them not only as individual people, but also as tribal nations. In general, the rights of Native Americans were determined by tribal membership rather than on an individual basis. Tribal membership was the cornerstone on which the Native American culture was built.

Although the government often dealt in treaties (formal agreements), it did not always abide by the treaty terms. By the second half of the nineteenth century, broken treaties had resulted in the capture of most Native American tribes. Their land was taken from them and they were forced to live on Indian reservations . The government continued to view them mostly as tribes rather than as individuals, although this position gave Native Americans partial control over laws that affected them.

The federal government realized that Native Americans drew strength from their tribal ties and memberships. On March 3, 1871, the Indian Appropriations Act was passed. This law ended treaty making between tribes and the federal government. Native Americans were stripped of their power and their strength because from that point on they were considered only as individuals. This increased the power and authority of the government and was one more step toward dismantling the tribal way of life for Native Americans.