Freedom is something that we here in the United States of America value very much. This doesn’t mean we haven’t had to fight for our rights over the years. From slavery to women’s suffrage, many of us have had to struggle for freedom. One group that is very often overlooked when it comes to struggling for freedom are the Native Americans, who have primarily been invisible in our history books.
Native Americans have struggled with freedom since early American history, beginning with Christopher Columbus. A significant battle for freedom came in the 1800’s. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. This act authorized the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. Many of the tribes went peacefully but many put up a fight, for instance, the Cherokee were forcibly made to march west, approximately 4,000 died. This march eventually became known as the “Trail of Tears”. The US Government was ultimately responsible for making Native Americans live in reservations. This sparked the question “What were the relative right of the North American Indians, and of the early discoverers, to the lands of this Continent?” Native Americans were in deed the first ones to live in this continent. This was a question that not only pertained to the Indian Removal Act but as well as the Dawes Act.
The Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act, passed on February 8, 1887, was a law that allowed the President to break up reservation land into small allotments to be parceled out to individuals. “To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section; To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and To each other single person under eighteen years now living, or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation, one-sixteenth of a section: ” The purpose of the Dawes Act was to protect Indians. However, the land allotted to them was worthless. The land was not what they needed for farming, most of it was desert. Other issues that arouse from the Dawes Act was that many of them did not want to take up agriculture and they certainly did not want to spend money on tools needed to begin to farming. Americans saw this as a power struggle. “We have taken the land and converted it to our own use, because we are the stronger in numbers, in intellectual power, and in all those forces which enable one race to dominate another.”
Assimilation Through Education
Owning proper land was a big struggle for Native Americans but an even bigger struggle they had to endure was Assimilation. Americans were uneducated, afraid, and had a negative perception of Native Americans. Many of them felt that they were barbarous people, depending of subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with civilized community. Therefore in order to make themselves feel safer and more comfortable they decided to slowly try to assimilate Native Americans into American culture. The first step was to weaken tribal relations and the second was to reach the children. “It is at utmost importance to instill into the Indian mind the idea that labor is honorable, that industry is commendable, and that to be a property owner and self-supporting is to occupy a much higher position than his present one.” This is primarily why Native American Boarding Institutions were created, the first one being built in 1879. For many years Native Americans were given a false representation of what the boarding schools would do for their children.
Anglo Americans used education as a tool of assimilation on Native American children. Anglo Americans tried to accomplish this by forcing American culture upon the children, in the belief that if they began to change the children eventually they would change the whole group. No longer were Indian children able to practice their rituals and customs, instead they began to learn the American way of life. In addition, Native American children had to conform to Christianity and suffer through harsh abuse and conditions in these institutions.