Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion:
What are the major
arguments Indians used to defend
their land, culture, and way of life
from Anglo-Americans?

Reading: Loewen, pp. 122-136; Luther Standing Bear
Chief Joseph's "The Takeover of Indian Land:
An Indian's View" (web)"
; Jackson's 2nd Annual
message (web)
; "To the People of the United States"
; Theodore Roosevelt argues against Indian
Rights (web)

Video: How the West was Lost

Daily Class Web Links

Geography of Western Settlement

American Indians and Western Settlement

American Indian Policy and the
Turner thesis

American Indian History Sites

American Indians Today

Daily Class Outline

1. Moving West: The Anglo-American
Invasion of Indian Land

2. Show How the West was Lost

3. How do the Indians understand the
history of Anglo-American Settlement of the West?

4. How would Chief Joseph respond to
President Jackson's argument about
American's rights to conquer and settle
the West?

5. Is President Jackson correct when he
argues that he doesn't have the authority to
force the states to recognize and protect the rights of Indians?

6. How would Luther Standing Bear respond
to Frederick Jackson Turner's argument that settling
the West helped make America a democratic society?

7. How would the Indians in the reading
respond to President Theodore Roosevelt's
argument about the rights of Americans to
settle the West.

8. From an Indian point of view, who is an American
and what kind of society is America?

9. Why didn't Anglo-Americans accept Indians
as a part of the larger American society, given
that the Indians were willing to accept Whites
as a part of their larger American society.

Daily Class Questions

1. According to President Andrew Jackson, what
happened to the Indians in the Eastern States?

2. Do you think that President Jackson really cares
about the fate of the Indians?

3. Does President Jackson really not have the
power and authority to protect the Cherokee Indians
from Georgia state control and domination?

4. What are the major argument Chief John Ross
uses to defend the Cherokee's right to their land
and culture?

5. Does Ross really believe that Congress and the
Federal Government will protect the rights of the
Cherokee people?

6. What are President Roosevelt' major arguments
justifying White American takeover of Indian land?

7. Do you think President Roosevelt really believes
in the arguments he is making?

8. What does President Roosevelt think is the
future of Indians in America?

9. According to Historian Frederick Jackson Turner
why did settling the West make America a more
democratic society?

10. Why doesn't Turner include Indians in his
history of Anglo-American settling of the West?

11. How would Chief Joseph respond to President Roosevelt's and Turner's argument justifying
White Western settlement?

12. What does Chief Joseph want from the Federal Government?

13. Does Chief Joseph believe that Whites and Indians
can peacefully live together in American society?

14. How does Luther Standing Bear define who
is an American and what are American values and principals?

15. How would Standing Bear respond to Turner's
argument that settling the West made America a
more democratic society?

15. Do you think Standing Bear is biased towards
Indians? Does he accept that American society
is also made up of Anglo-Americans?

Daily Class Notes

"Our Great Father will forbear no longer. He has tried to reclaim them, and they grow worse. He is resolved to sweep them from the face of the earth....If they cannot be made good they must be killed."
............Government Agent speaking to the Sac and Fox Indians in the 1830s (Zinn, p. 130)

The Indian Removal Act (1830)

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That in the making of any such exchange or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty to them, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and if they prefer it, that the United States will cause a patent or grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided always, That such lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.

The larger question facing both Indians and European setters from the very beginning of contact between these two peoples was this: Can Indians and Europeans live together in America despite their different cultures, religions, languages, customs and traditions? This larger question quickly posed two very different questions for American Indians:

1) Could Indians be a part of White American society and culture, and under whose terms--Indians or White?

2) Was there a future for Indians as part of White American society? That is, were White Americans willing to share American society and resources with Indians?

To begin to see how both Indians and White Americans answered these questions, we can look at Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians. In the "Chief Joseph's Story" (1879) handout, Chief Joseph is speaking before Congress, pleading on behalf of his defeated and imprisoned Indian people. For Joseph, the so-called "Indian problem" was not caused by Indians, but by Whites refusal to accept Indians as a part of their larger American society.

In order to understand Joseph's argument, we need to first understand the history of the Nez Perce Indian people. The Nez Perce had lived in what is now the border between Oregon and Washington state for hundreds of years. They hunted, farmed and traded with nearby Indian tribes. Upon reaching the Nez Perce Indian people on their journey to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark were welcomed by them and given supplies. They made friends with Lewis and Clark and the American expedition. However, this friendship didn't last very long.

White settlers and missionaries began swarming into Oregon and Washington in the 1840s and 1850s. Believing that they were settling a "new land," many of these settlers failed to recognize or accept the Indians rights to their land, culture, and way of life. The settlers acted and believed that the Indians were now a part of the larger American society. If the Indians didn't accept the settlers right to settle on their land and develop the wilderness, then the settlers would demand that the Federal government push them aside to make room for progress and development. The Indians were thus faced with a choice: They either allow white settlement and the economic development of their lands, or they be pushed aside onto reservations under the strict control of the Federal government and the military. Whites did not accept the rights of Indians to continue to own and control their land, to continue their way of life and separate culture and societies, and practice their religion and way of life. By the 1860s and 1870s White settlers' demands to settle on the Nez Perce Indian land created a real dilemma for both the Indians and the Federal Government.

In the early 1870s, the Federal government decided that in order to appease the growing demands of White settlers to settle on Indian land that it would remove the Nez Perce Indians from the majority of their land and place them on a reservation, separate and isolated from White society. It is here where Joseph's story really begins. In the mid-1870s, the Federal government sent General Howard to order the Nez Perce chiefs to prepare themselves to be moved onto reservations. General Howard told the Nez Perce that "the country belongs to the Government, and I intend to make you go upon the reservation." But Joseph and the Nez Perce were puzzled by this demand. How could the Federal government believe it had the right to take the majority of Nez Perce tribal land and put them on a small, isolated reservation? Where did the government get the authority to remove them from the land that they believed "the Great Spirit" gave them to live on. But General Howard wasn't willing to argue this point with the Indians. Believing he had the authority and right to remove the Indians, he warned them: "If you are not here in that time, I shall consider that you want to fight, and will send my soldiers to drive you on."

After trying to meet Howard's deadline to move, and finding it impossible to do so, Chief Joseph and the rest of the Nez Perce chiefs decided to attempt a daring escape to Canada, trying to flee the control and domination of the Federal government. But the government refused to allow the Indians to escape. It send thousands of troops to prevent the Nez Perce from escaping into Canada. Federal troops captured the Indians within 60 miles of the Canadian border. The Federal government had decided not to allow the Nez Perce to escape their control, fearing that other Indians would follow the example they set. Upon surrendering, General Miles promised Joseph that he and his people would be granted a small reservation in Washington. But after they surrendered the Secretary of War and other military leaders reneged on this promise and ordered the Nez Perce to be sent to prisons in Oklahoma. Representing his people, Chief Joseph asked to speak before Congress and be allowed to plead his defeated peoples' case.

Chief Joseph begins his speech by declaring his view of the larger conflict between Indians and Whites: "I want the white people to understand my people. Some of you think that an Indian is a wild animal. This is a great mistake. I will tell you about our people, and then you can judge whether an Indian is a man or not." For Joseph the central cause of this conflict is that Whites do not recognize and respect the rights of Indians a human beings and as Americans. Joseph gives a major example of this when he observes that whites "stole a great many horses from us, and we could not get them back because we were Indian." Chief Joseph must know that the penalty for White Americans stealing horses from other Whites is death. But Whites don't grant the same enforcement of this law to Indians.

Recognizing their defeat and the loss of their land, their horses and cattle, and the Nez Perce suffering and loss of life during this conflict, Joseph pleads with Congress to help his people: "I know that my race must change. We cannot hold our own with the white men as we are. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men." Joseph is asking Congress to recognize Indians and men and as Americans with rights. He says: "Let me be a free man--free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, freed to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself...." Joseph concludes his speech by promising that if White Americans "treat the Indian as they treat each other, then we shall have no more wars. We shall all be alike." But, tragically, White Americans refused to treat Indians like Whites, to recognize Indians as equal member of a larger American society.

We can see this same dilemma in President Andrew Jackson's "Second Annual Message" in 1830. In the 1820 and 1830s, Southern States were pressuring the Federal government to remove the remaining Indians tribe from their land in the South and put them on reservations in Oklahoma, which the government called "Indian Territory." The Southern states and white settlers and slaveholders wanted the Indians' land and resources to expand slavery and the Southern economy. They didn't recognize the right of Indians to remain on their land, to hold onto their culture and religion, and to live as Indians within the larger American society. Facing this pressure from White Americans, President Jackson came up with an policy supporting Indian removal that he thought was best for Indians and White Americans.

In his "Second Annual Message," President Jackson argues that removing the Indians in the Southern states to reservations in Oklahoma is good for the Indians, White settlers, and good for the Southern states. Jackson argues that removing the Indians will "place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters"...."and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power." In addition to help the States and white settlers, removal will separate "the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites"...."which will retard the progress of decay which is lessening their numbers." Jackson now argues that Indians will survive only if they are removed out of the path of white settlement. If Indians aren't isolated from whites, and protected on reservations, Jackson warns, they will face the same fate as the Indians in the Eastern states--they "were annihilated or melted away." Isolated from whites, safe from annihilation or extermination, the Federal government can help the Indians "cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community." In addition to helping the Indians survive, removing the Indians will help America create an "extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or Industry can execute." If the white settlers can leave the homes of their ancestors to settle the wilderness, Jackson argues, then Indians should also be able to leave their homes and go to reservations. Jackson seems to think that sending Indians to reservations is comparable to white settlers settling in the West. For President Jackson, just like most Americans in the 1830s, the Indians as Indians could not live and be a part of American society. Either the Indians gave up their culture, religion, language, and way of life and disappeared into White society or they would be annihilated. Jackson's policy mirrors the larger Federal government's Indian policy from 1870 to 1920, which can be summarized in a phrase: "Kill the Indian to save the Man." If Indians did not give up their Indian ways and disappear into White culture and society, they would die out, because Indians as Indians could not survive in White American society in the 1800s.

In response to President Jackson's argument for Indian removal, John Ross and the leaders of the Cherokee Indian nation that was threatened with removal tried to argue their case before Congress and the American people for Indian's rights to their land, culture, and way of life. In "Memorial and Protest of the Cherokee Nation," Cherokee leader John Ross argues that Indians as a distinct people, deserving basic rights and freedoms, should be allowed to remain on their land and practice their culture and way of life, free from White American domination and control. Like Chief Joseph, John Ross believes that the conflicts between Indians and Whites is caused by the White's refusal to recognize Indians as peoples with inalienable rights and freedoms. Ross argues that the Indians are farmers, Christians, and are improving and developing their lands and resources. In fact, the White settlers and Southern state governments are stealing the Indian land that has been improved and developed. Given the Cherokee's efforts to become a part of the larger White American society, the United States should and must recognize the rights, dignity, and equality of Indians in American society. But the Federal government and most White Americans refused to accept Ross's arguments. And the Cherokee were removed from their ancestral land and march to a reservation in Oklahoma. On this march, known as the "Trail of Tears" over one-third of the Cherokee people dies due to cold, disease, and starvation. This tragedy symbolizes the larger White American society's refusal to accept Indians as part of their larger society.

In order to understand the White American refusal to accept Indians as a part of their society, we must look back at the assumptions made by the first European explorers and settlers who came to America. For many Americans, Columbus has come to symbolize the progress and good will that Europeans brought to the Americas. But as, Loewen argues, Columbus was, in fact, one of the models for the behavior of future explorers and settlers in America. When Columbus first landed on the island of Hispanola, present-day Haiti, he claimed all the land and resources for the Spanish King and Queen. He even commented that the peoples would make "good slaves." On his return to Spain, Columbus brought a few of the Indians back to Spain as slaves. On his previous expeditions to the Hispanola and the Bahamas, Columbus brutalized the Indians, capturing them as slaves, forcing them to find gold for Spain, and using violence and terrorism to control the Indians. As a result of the massive violence Columbus and his men used against the Indians, tens of thousands of Indians died. Loewen argues that "the Spanish in Haiti is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history. But the wealth and power created by Columbus and later Spanish expeditions convinced other European nations that they, too, had to get in on the scramble for wealth in America. If the Spanish could amass vast wealth by exploiting the Indians, then the French, the English, the Portuguese, and the Dutch could as well. Loewen argues that in the scramble for wealth in the Americas "these other European nations were at least as brutal as Spain. The British, for example, unlike the Spanish, did not colonize by making use of Indian labor but simply forced the Indians out of the way."(p. 66)

But our textbooks do not describe the settling of the Americas as a scramble for wealth and the brutal exploitation of Indians and Africans. Instead we celebrate Columbus, as President Bush did in 1989, "as a role model for the nation." (p. 69) High school textbooks do not describe the refusal of Europeans to recognize and respect the rights of Indians who had already settled and lived in America, who were themselves the First Americans. There is thus a major contradiction between our history of European settlement and the reality of the brutal dispossession of Indian land and culture from 1492 to the present. Loewen argues that in order to avoid this contradiction, Americans forget the brutal reality of Indian-White conflict and accept the myth of the "empty continent" peopled by a few wandering savages, who were very quickly pushed aside by the progress of civilization across the American continent. Loewen refers to this process of denial as cognitive dissonance. Because humans can't hold two mutually incompatible beliefs at the same time, we tend to deny or forget one of those beliefs in order to make one of them reasonable and acceptable. Thus, in order to celebrate the victory of progress, the movement of white settlers across the continent, and the triumph of American democracy and civilization, Americans forget that in order to settle the continent that they had to brutally deny Indians their rights and culture. The basic contradiction is this: Can America celebrate itself as a democratic society based the recognition of individual rights and freedoms while at the same recognizing that very democratic society denied the basic rights and freedoms of Indian peoples. This is the basic contradiction is Chief Joseph examines in his speech before Congress.

The best example of what Loewen means by cognitive dissonance in Indian-White relations can be seen in Frederick Jackson Turner's famous 1893 history, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." This speech and Turner's larger argument is one of the most influential arguments in American history. Turner's point of view about Western settlement dominated the way American understood the history of American settlement up until the 1960s.

Turner argues that the best way to understand American history is to study the settlement of the continent: "Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West." He argues that American democratic institutions and values such as individualism, independence, self-reliance, and mistrust of government can be traced to the American settlement of the West. By facing and conquering the challenge of settling the frontier, Americans became who and what they are--they became Americans. For Turner, settlers contact with "free land" and the struggle to conquer the wilderness transformed them into Americans. But Turner does not mention anywhere the role of the Indians, who had lived and settled in the West. If settling the West made Americans who they are, why weren't Indians transformed and made into Americans already. The only time Turner mentions Indians is when he notes that the settler "fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails." But what happened to the Indians who made these trails and clearings? If Turner recognized the existence and prior settlement of America by Indians, his entire argument would fall apart. White settlers can't be celebrated as democratic heroes, settling and developing a continent, and in the process creating a democratic society, while at the same time denying Indians the very democratic rights America celebrates. As Loewen argues, Americans would rather have the myth than face the complex realities created by the massive contradictions between American democratic ideals and the reality of the brutal denial of Indians rights and place in American society.

Recognizing the larger contradictions in Indian-White relations and in American history, Luther Standing Bear argues that the Indian is America, that because Indians lived and settled in America for hundreds of years that they came to know and understand the land and America. Standing Bear argues that "the white man does not understand the Indian for the reason that he does not understand America." White's refusal to recognize and respect Indian rights, Standing Bear argues, only hurt the larger American society. When Whites come to "look upon the Indian world as a human world; then let him see to it that human rights be accorded to the Indians. And this for the purpose of retaining for his own order of society a measure of humanity." For Standing Bear, Chief Joseph, and John Ross, White America's refusal to accept Indians as human beings and as Americans has hurt both Indians and White Americans. Unlike Columbus and later White settlers, these American Indians believe that America can be and is a society that can include both Whites and Indians, that can allow both Whites and Indians to hold onto and celebrate their own culture, religion, and way of life. The refusal to accept such a larger multiracial and multicultural society has created racial divisions and tensions that have dominated American history and still threaten American society today.

Is Loewen's and the Indians' argument simply Columbus- and White American-bashing? Are we suppose to now recognize the goodness of Indians and the brutality and greed of Whites? No, not al all. Loewen argues:

"I am not proposing the breast-beating alternative: that Columbus was bad and so are we. On the contrary, textbooks should show that neither morality nor immorality can simply be conferred upon us by history. Merely being part of the United States, without regard to our own acts and ideas, does not make us moral or immoral beings. History is more complicated than that."

I agree with Loewen that just because White Americans acted badly and selfishly toward the Indians does not mean that we today are directly responsible for their actions. One of my colleagues, an American Indian, argued that "she doesn't blame White Americans today, or hold them responsible, for what Whites did to Indians in the part. She does, however, hold White Americans responsible for how they treat Indians and people of color today. She believes that our knowledge of the past can help us overcome racial division and wounds created by our past. We aren't responsible directly for our past, but we are responsible for how we use our knowledge of that past and our actual history to shape the present and the future. Because we can't go back and undo history we can't be directly responsible for the past, but we can and are responsible for how the past and our own lives shape and affect American society and its future.

© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 10 Sept. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/indians.htm
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