The history of American Indians is a long and storied one. It’s not always pretty, but history rarely is – what’s important is that America’s indigenous people were able to successfully integrate into modern Western society while maintaining their culture and tradition. Here’s a brief overview of the history of American Indian reservations, although there’s a lot more to look into for those truly interested.
Around the turn of the 16th century, American Indians were still living as tribes in their native lands. Trouble was brewing on the horizon, however, as European and Spanish colonialists sought to inhabit these lands after discovering them largely by accident. This page offers some insight on how the famous explorers went about creating a new home for themselves.
With different cultures and ways of life, American Indians and European colonialists rarely saw eye to eye and suffered hostilities between one another for what would be centuries: many feel as if some of these tensions poured into present day, although it’s difficult to say for sure.
The middle of the 19th century saw perhaps the biggest turn of events, one that would lead to the formation of today’s reservations. A law was passed that forced many American Indians to migrate from one part of the country to another – the ‘final’ destinations would end up becoming Indian reservations. History.com describes this forced migration a bit more, sparing no unpleasant details.
Yet this still didn’t mean the trouble was over, both for the settlers and the natives.
The creation of reservations and transition into present day
As is often the case when two groups of people with distinctly different customs and beliefs inhabit a land, settlers in the would-be reservations rarely welcomed the presence of American Indians and the sentiment was often returned.
Conflicts continued, and the attempts of then-President Ulysses S. Grant to establish peace did very little – in fact, many would argue that Grant’s policy only made matters worse, causing numerous bloody conflicts between the U.S. Army and the natives who weren’t content with staying in their state-approved location.
While things looked a little better around the end of the 19th century when American Indians were starting to get land on an individual basis (as opposed to a per-tribe one), it wasn’t until mid-20th century that natives would truly be taken care of.
The act that changed it all
The act of 1934 has multiple names: the Indian New Deal, the Howard-Wheeler Act or the Indian Reorganization Act. However you want to call it, it was the first policy that truly established rights for the natives – tribes were allocated to reservations that were to be considered their property in every sense of the word. You can learn more about the act here.
The next two decades saw the government make strides in improving the conditions on the reservations, making them more hospitable and fit for modern life. While some tribes perished or disbanded, most were encouraged to maintain their individuality and are still officially recognized.
From there, some American Indians elected to live in cities while others were content to stay on the reservations – this, more or less, remains the case to this very day.