1850 to 1899

1861–1865: Civil War

As punishment for supporting the Confederacy, the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole) were forced to give up the western half of the Indian Territiory.

1864: Forced Migration

Navajo (Dine`) “Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo, thousands died on the forced migration.

1865–1875: Reservation Period

1868: Sioux Treaty

Included permit for non-reservation Sioux to claim land the government had taken for forts and other uses and later abandoned. Is the basis for the first Occupation of Alcatraz, March 8, 1964, by a small group of Sioux.

1876: Little Big Horn

Custer defeated at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

1878: Establishment of Bording Schools

Boarding schools are established; the purpose was to “civilize” Indian youth and resulted in de-culturation. The federal government had educational responsibility by treaty for many Indian tribes, and requested that Church societies run the schools. Most of the Indian students were shipped to schools that were purposely geographically distant from tribal lands in order to inhibit communication with family and to discourage running away. Attendance was mandatory, with children frequently being rounded up from their homes by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) personnel and literally dumped on trains. (One particularly disturbing example occurred in 1887 when African American troops were sent to round up Hopi children and forcibly take them to the boarding school at Keams Canyon, Arizona. (Calloway, 1999, pg.361) . Several Hopi men were imprisoned in the dungeons of Alcatraz for refusing to send their children to boarding schools, as a lesson to other Indian parents (Fortunate Eagle, 1992.)

When children arrived, some as young as two years, their Indian clothes were burned and their traditionally long hair was cut, which was very traumatic. Children were severely punished physically and mentally for speaking an Indian language, or participating in Indian culture. There were no family members or visits, sometimes for years.

The absence of nurturing and warm human contact was replaced with the necessity of attending church on a regular basis, converting to Christianity, and the task of learning to read and write English and do arithmetic. Many Indian cultures did not sanction physical punishment of children. As a learned behavior in American schools, many Indians brought this form of punishment into their homes. Missionaries in the early period of the schools expected rapid conversion to Christianity and “civilization” by their Indian charges, meaning farm work and domestic service.

Not until 1934 and the passing of the Indian Reorganization Act by Congress were Indians given the right to determine where their children attended school, and emphasis was placed on reservation day schools (Hendrix, 1998, pg 12-13).

Upon returning to the reservation, many Indians were distressed to find that they no longer felt they belonged to the community they left. The young adult was uncomfortable in the once familiar surroundings, and the Indian community was suspicious and distrusting of the indoctrinated youngster dressed in western clothes. Many Indians left the reservations for extended periods of time, or made lives elsewhere as a result (Nabokov, 1991; Hendrix, 1999).

Despite the harsh realities of life in the Boarding schools, many Indian elders feel that it was a necessary experience to gain an education, and an understanding of the dominant society. These contemporary elderly Indians survived, took a positive mental attitude, and made meaningful and productive lives for themselves and their families (Calloway, 1999, pg 363-4; Hendrix, 1998; Lomawaima, 1994.). Many of today’s elders went through a Boarding school experience.

1883: Native American Religions Made Illegal

The practice of Native American religions became a federal offense.

1887: General Allotment Act (Dawes Act)

The allotment system forced individual ownership of land by Indians (by “allotments of 160 acres”), and destroyed the Tribal function. White farmers were allowed to purchase “surplus” pieces of the land. The purpose of the Dawes Act was to 1) break up tribal governments; 2) abolish Indian reservations; and, 3) force Indians to assimilate into a dominant society. The Dawes Act prepared Native Americans for eventual termination of tribally held lands. Thousands of Indians lost land due to poverty, foreclosure, or sale to other farmers. Of the 140 million acres of land collectively owned by the tribes in 1887, only 50 million were left in 1934 when the allotment system was abolished (Pevar, 1992).

1890: Wounded Knee Massacre

350 Sioux men, women, and children of Big Foot’s band of Miniconjou Sioux were killed at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, it is said on their way to a Ghost dance, by the Seventh US Cavalry (defeated fourteen years earlier at Little Big Horn), in subzero weather of winter. Dr. Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux) treated the wounded and mutilated, and searched the field for survivors (Calloway, 1999.)