Native American Headress



Part II The Weapons of Politics and Treaties

   Before, during and after the War of Independence, the same war carried forward by the Spanish and British was waged with the added fury of expanding colonization and discovery by white settlers and business exploiters. An important question to ask with the mistreatment of the Native Americans by the U.S. is: who is responsible? The War Department of the United States managed Indian Affairs. This meant that the United States Army, as directed by officers, administered the care of Native Americans in times of peace and in times of war. We might well ask how can a department "manage" tribal affairs in a constructive manner and make war on them at the same time? This strange dichotomy in management is still a typical arrangement. The same department that wages war conducts the search for clues to bring justice. This is analogous to putting a serial killer in charge of his own evidence gathering, then, after the evidence is in, presenting that same evidence to himself as judge and jury.

    Another department established for managing Native American affairs was the Interior Department. In the beginning, white agents were usually in charge of the agencies for the reservations, or a half-breed and, later, a trusted native was put in charge. One testimony from a Superior Court Judge named William Compton Brown charges that, "during too much of the time, the managers . . . were either incompetent or were corrupt and the business was viciously handled...." Brown continues, "there was a vast amount of injustice and bloodshed." Then finally there were the local state, territorial and governmental laws and regulations in addition to the flood of settlers who continually were crowding in for Indian lands.(3). None of these were disposed to treat the Native Americans with sovereign respect due these nations.

Were the Native Americans a Sovereign Nation?

    "Each individual is a sovereign in his own mind." John Long, fur trader to the Iroquois.
    "The agreement an Indian makes to a United States treaty is like the agreement a buffalo makes with the arrows. All he can do is lie down and give in." Chief of Utes 1868.

   "The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 ratified by Congress in 1789 declared: 'The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward Indians; their land and property shall never be taken from them without their consent.'" (15). In 1790 and 1793 other laws were passed by Congress requiring a white man to have a license to trade with Native Americans, prohibiting land seizures by whites unless they had permission from the United States. The Native Americans were authorized to prosecute non-natives for crimes committed against them. The 1793 law also prohibited settlers from settling on Native American soil, prohibited federal employees from trade and exempted Native Americans from state trade regulations. These were merely words on a piece of paper to Congress, settlers and traders. They did not regard the Native American land as really belonging to the tribes. Whenever treasure was found on native lands, the rush to grant it to the mob came nearly as fast as those who wanted it could move. Later it was stated of the laws that, "The government meant to restrain and govern the advance of the whites not to prevent it forever."(15).

    When the natives were granted treaties by the U.S., they thought they were being treated as a sovereign nation with rights as an independent nation. However, the thought of a "semi-barbarious, (sic) savage, primitive, degraded and ignorant" (Clinton-Newton-Price-6) nation being equal was more than early conquerors could conceive. To make a treaty with them meant they were dealing on a plane of equality. How could "civilized" men make a treaty of sovereignty with barbarians? Another dilemma presented itself in the wake of this incompatibility with the Native Americans and, that is, who does the land belong to? Did the land belong to the natives of North America by right of occupation, or did it belong to those who "discovered" it?

    The issue of reservations being created, boundaries being defined, then the westward push driving into these newly created lands was a source of continual clashes. On one hand, the Native Americans had a perfectly "legal" right to enforce the whites to cease and desist from all encroachment on tribal lands by their "signed" treaties, but the butchery of a whole tribe would sometimes ensue from the slightest retaliation by the natives. On the other hand, the settlers felt it was their destiny to inherit the land that God gave them. They had a perfect right to cut down the forests, plunder the mountains for precious ore, waste entire species of animals for profit since they were the discoverers of an "uninhabited" land. (18).

    Secretary of War John Easton clearly understood that the Native Americans were no more than squatters given temporary permission to reside on state owned soil. When he addressed the Cherokees in April 1829, he flatly informed them that, "If, as is the case, you have been permitted to abide on your lands from that period [the signing of a previous treaty] to the present, enjoying the right of the soil, and privilege to hunt, it is not thence to be inferred, that this was anything more than a permission, growing out of compacts with your nation; nor is it a circumstance whence, now to deny those states the exercise of their original sovereignty. . . ." Continuing his denunciation of them as a sovereign nation he says, "No right, however, save a mere possessory one, is by the provisions of the treaty of Hopewell conceded to your nation. The soil, and the use of it, were suffered to remain with you, while the sovereignty abided precisely where it did before, in those states within whose limits you were situated." This clearly stated the true intent of treaties. It was not to grant the Native Americans their own government with their territory separate from the white invasion; it was to give them a temporary place to live until such time as the owner called for it.

Manifest Destiny

    The only solution to solve this embarrassing legal formality was to absolve the Native Americans as a sovereign nation. Manifest Destiny fulfilled this bill. "Tribal leaders were convinced, coerced, or tricked into signing a total of 371 treaties up through the 1870's, ceding almost all their land to the government, save for some small reservations. By Supreme Court ruling, these remaining tracts of land constitute 'dependent nations.'" (9).

    Ely Parker, also known as Donehogawa, was a mixed-blood Seneca chief. He became an official spokesman for the Native Americans of New York and later he studied law but was not admitted to the bar because he was a Native American. He then studied engineering and became a civil engineer. Then he joined the military, during which he reportedly saved Ulysses S. Grant's life. Continuing on, he became a brigadier general and wrote all the documents concerning the surrender at Appomattox. U. S. Grant, in appreciation to Parker, appointed him Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1869.(14).

   Speaking of the sovereign rights of Native Americans and treaties Ely Parker authoritatively comments, "...a treaty involves the idea of a compact between two or more sovereign powers, each possessing sufficient authority and force to compel a compliance with the obligations incurred. The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character. They are held to be wards of the government, and the only title the law concedes to them to the lands they occupy or claim is a mere possessory one." Parker continues to elaborate on the true purpose of treaties when he expounds further, "But, because treaties have been made with them, generally for the extinguishment of their supposed absolute title to land inhabited by them, or over which they roam, they have become falsely impressed with the notion of national independence. It is time that this idea should be dispelled, and the government cease the cruel farce of thus dealing with its helpless and ignorant wards. Many good men, looking at this matter only from a Christian point of view, will perhaps say that the poor Indian has been greatly wronged and ill treated; that this whole country was once his, of which he has been despoiled, and that he has been driven from place to place until he has hardly left to him a spot to lay his head. This indeed may be philanthropic and humane, but the stern letter of the law admits of no such conclusion, and great injury has been done by the government by deluding this people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time dependents and wards." (Cohen- 6).

   Parker understood very well the true intent of Congress in making treaties. If the nation the treaty was made with could not force its own inhabitants to keep the treaty and force the nation the treaty was made with into keeping the treaty, it was considered invalid. The unspoken U.S. policy concerning treaties stated that the stronger of the two making the treaty was the overseer of both sides of the treaty and could enforce it as it saw fit. The Native Americans were indebted to the conquering nation by lack of weaponry. Here we see the ravenous dragon pretending to be a lamb with the wispy skins removed. Treaties were delusions: a mockery of the legal system.

    "The conduct of the United States Americans [sic] toward the natives was inspired by the most chaste affection for legal formalities . . . .It is impossible to destroy men with more respect to the laws of humanity." Alex de Tocqueville (18). The ONLY time the pieces of paper were honored was when the whites got the land they wanted away from the natives. The Native Americans were forced into "touching the pen" to these pieces of paper hoping to receive justice. It was, in reality, robbery of their lands and removal to reservations where they would become wards of the state. It was not as an agreement between two sovereign nations. If we look at history, we see the piece of paper was all-out war guised under treaties. This legal war still rages under the guise of the Constitution that created all men equal, but as George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, "some are more equal." It is only a piece of paper enforceable by the stronger power.

    In 1898 Congress passed the Curtis Act that abolished all rights of all tribal governments for all Native Americans with the government. All treaties were legally null and void. So much for a "legal" agreement to which the Native Americans had "touched the pen". In 1934 Congress seemed to have a change of heart with the Wheeler-Howard Act that reversed the Curtis Act, but, by then, the Native Americans had already been reduced to names of states, cities, rivers, roads and cars. The once noble independent people were scattered vagabonds and strangers in their own land. The first welfare state had been successfully created for the purpose of control and subjugation by trickery.

Continued:  Educating the Indians Part III

Written 03/19/98

Pattern for the New Order Part I
Sand Creek Massacre, Religion Outlawed Part IV
Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee Part V


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