By Mo Liu and Jamie Lance, V Form
Letter to the Editor: Native American Policy
Dear Editor Jackson,
It occurs to me that there is much attention raised among the general public regarding our government’s policy towards Indians, and therefore in writing to you, I, as a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, want to clarify my position. Indians cannot be entirely excluded from our picture as a nation. However, the Indian society is not a cultivated society likes ours. One of my colleagues, who is experienced with Indian affairs and always provides us with elaborate information about the Indians, says their tribes are corrupted by “idleness, improvidence, and indebtedness”. The lack of private property or land and the underdevelopment of laws mark the Indian society as barbarous and inferior to ours. Because of this difference, since 1871 Indian tribes are no longer considered sovereign nations. Governments before us circumvented the Indian dilemma by relocating and establishing reservations west to the Mississippi River, yet now with a closed frontier and western migration, conflicts between settlers and the Indians are inevitable. The issue is pressing.
The Dawes Act replaces the tribal claim by giving each individual family 160 acres of land and awarding citizenships to those who comply. I see Senator Dawes’ proposal as an ideal situation for the Indians. Not only can they claim their own portion of land and avoid direct conflicts with settlers, they would also become citizens and enjoy corresponding rights. At the same time, as our President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his article, False Sentimentality About Indians, it is absurd to assert that the land really belongs to the Indians because “different tribes have always been utterly unable to define their own boundaries”. By breaking up tribal land, Dawes Act lessens the tension caused by jealousy between the “warlike and bloodthirsty” tribes themselves as wells as between Indians and white settlers. However, policies like the Dawes Act sometimes receive strong opposition from Indians who wish to foolishly maintain their barbarous ways.
In the book you published a few years ago, A Century of Dishonor, you argued that the tribes were “subjected to cruelty and outrage”. With all respect, Ma’am, I think your statement is unfounded and reckless. I believe the false sentimentality you and many other sympathizers of the Indians comes from a lack of understanding of the situation. As an Indian Commissioner, I have experienced the cruelty of the savages. We never want to turn a peaceful negotiation into a violent war, and believe me, Ma’am, our officers are never the ones who start the fight. The horrors of Indians are not myths; they are irritable, deceptive, and bloody. I believe our current Indian policy is an effective one. Using the words of the economist Francis A. Walker, “[the current policy] reduces to the minimum the loss of life and property upon our frontier and allows the freest development of our settlements and railways possible under the circumstances.” It is a decision made that reduces conflicts, supports the Indians, and improves the progression of civilization. I believe that we should soon achieve success in integrating Indians, shall we follow the direction pointed out by the current policy.
Merrill Gates, Senior Indian Affair Advisor
Dear Mr. Merrill Gates,
While I greatly appreciate the time you have taken to respond to my article, I must respectfully disagree with your opinion on the matter. The approach that the current administration uses to conduct relations with sovereign Native American nations is cruel, inhumane, and against the natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that are so dear to the United States. Since the establishment of this country, settlers have systematically intruded on and seized Native property. For the last century, these innocent people have been chased off the land that belonged to their ancestors and forced to migrate westward, leaving their sacred burial grounds and everything they knew behind. With the closing of the frontier and the frequent gold rushes causing a shift in population distribution, this is a crucial time for Native American relations, as the continuation of their very existence is called into question. The violent conflicts that have erupted between tribes and settlers are by no means a result of Native American savagery, but rather the desire for settlers to expand into the already occupied land. As you are a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, I urge you to investigate these fights. In the recent Battle of Wounded Knee, tribal elder Black Elk Lakota reports that there “was one long grave of butchered women and children and babies, who had never done any harm and were only trying to run away.” Another eyewitness, American Horse Lakota saw the horrors as they occurred: “The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through… and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys… came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them.” Popular opinion places Native Americans at fault, and yet at each incident, the settlers are on the offensive. Misconceptions of these innocent people have fueled cruel and violent massacres stemming back to the early 1800’s. One tribe, the Cherokee Nation, had an established school system, church, infrastructure, representational government, and written alphabet when a gold rush in Georgia created interest in the land they settled on. The Indian Removal Act was passed, and 17,000, civilized Cherokees were marched, at gunpoint, from their tribal land to “Indian Territory” nearly 1,000 miles away. An estimated 4,000 Native Americans perished from hunger, exhaustion, and illness on the march. This number includes women and children, as well as men who had no interest in fighting. The excuse that Natives are uneducated and savage is invalid, because it simply isn’t true, people just choose to ignore it. The Trail of Tears is commonly considered one of the darkest parts of American history, however, with the implementation of the Dawes Act, we’re doomed to repeat it. This legislation was marketed as an aid to civilize the savage Native Americans so they may assimilate into our culture, but even the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Thomas J. Morgan, has said that “it has become the policy of the Government to break up reservations, destroy tribal relations, settle Indians upon their own homesteads.” As we continue to seize Native American land to use for our own benefit and settlement, we must consider the consequences. I turn the question around to you, Mr. Gates. If we are willing to destroy thousands of years of culture, rip land away from its rightful owners, and, ultimately, wipe out an entire race, what does that say about the United States and our self-proclaimed legacy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Helen Hunt Jackson
Jamie Lance is a V Form boarding student from Stow, MA. She plays varsity soccer and enjoys riding horses.
Mo Liu is a V Form boarding student from Beijing, China. She enjoys studying science and German, while she delves into playing both piano and organ.
“Cherokee Trail of Tears.” Accessed January 27, 2017.
This source provided useful statistics about the Trail of Tears that allowed me to contextualize the issue of Native American mistreatment.
“Dawes Act.” American Indian History Online.
This information page provided me with the specific articles passed under Dawes Severalty Act as well as personal descriptions of the Native American society from several Indian Commissioners.
“The Dilemma of Indian Policy.” Annals of American History Online.
This during-the-period analysis thoroughly described the conflict over Native American policy, and shows that the prevailing sentiment was in favor of the policy particularly because of the economic benefits gained from conquering Native American land.
“False Sentimentality About Indians.” Annals of American History Online.
This primary source presented the government’s attitude towards Native Americans at the time, and it justified the advocated policy by arguing that Dawes Act was a mutual benefit for both Indian tribes and white settlers.
Jackson, Helen Hunter. “Indians and Whites.” Annals of American History Online.
This primary source introduced me to the opposite side, the advocates of Native Americans’ rights. It was helpful in informing me what counter arguments I would to address in order to successfully refute my opponent’s position.
Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, 1873, pp. 391–401.
This statement from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs shows that although the government provided a justification of the crimes they committed, they did not fully believe in the morality of them.
“Wounded Knee Massacre.” Digital History. Accessed January 27, 2017. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1101.
This webpage provided many first-hand accounts of the massacre. It dispelled misbeliefs that Native Americans were to blame and highlighted the brutality and violence of settlers.