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Indian Appropriations Act

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Indian Appropriations Act

The Indian Appropriation Act is the name of several acts passed by the United States Congress. A considerable number of acts were passed under the same name throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the most notable landmark acts consist of the 1851 Indian Appropriations Act and the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act.


1851 Act

NOTE: This act is actually called "Appropriation Bill for Indian Affairs", ch. 14, 9 Stat. 574, passed on February 27, 1851. Text is available at page The 1851 Indian Appropriations Act allocated funds to move western tribes onto reservations. Reservations were protected and enclosed by the US government. According to the federal government at that time, reservations were to be created in order to protect the Native Americans from the growing encroachment of whites moving westward. This act set the precedent for modern-day Native American reservations.

There are differing explanations as to why this act was instituted.

One of which is that the average Independent Americans regarded Indians’ control of land and other natural resources in parts around the country as a serious potential threat towards their expansionary and economic goals.

Another explanation is that due to the country's fixed amount of land, the previously unrestricted presence of the Indians living under different tribal laws but off the jurisdiction of American Law began to unintentionally but naturally conflict legally with the growing number of Americans settling on more and more lands and their own less freedoms and duties. This quickly posed as a potentially dangerous security and insurance concern for many enterprising Americans, and the federal government, responsible for protecting its own citizens, was expected to respond with a solution not known before and departing from that previously practiced by the British Empire.

But the explanation more often utilized is one that originated in the 1830s, nearly two decades before the passing of this Act, when many Americans agreed with President Jackson theories that Indians needed to be resettled westward for their own protection. As decided, Native Americans in the South were forced to move to the Great Plains, but by the 1850s, Americans began to move into that area as well. Thus, the federal government, acting on such exigency and on Americans’ long-standing sentiments regarding the Indians, passed the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851, placing Indians on reservations given there were no other lands available for another forced relocation.

As a consequence, conflict in the Great Plains area was aggravated when settlers began to move into the final remaining land, where Native Indians had no place to be relocated.

1871 Act

According to the Indian Appropriation Act of March 3, 1871, no longer was any group of Indians in the United States recognized as an independent nation by the federal government. Moreover, Congress directed that all Indians should be treated as individuals and legally designated "wards" of the federal government. Before this bill was enacted, the federal government signed treaties with different Native American tribes, committing the tribes to land cessions, in exchange for specific lands designated to Indians for exclusive indigenous use as well as annual payments in the form of cash, livestock, supplies, and services. These treaties, which took much time and effort to finalize, ceased with the passage of the 1871 Indian Appropriation Act, declaring that “no Indian nation or tribe” would be recognized “as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty.” Thus, it can be argued that this bill made it significantly easier for the federal government to secure lands that were previously owned by Native Americans.

1885 Act

After several attempts by the Boomers to enter Indian Territory, Congress passed the 1885 Act which allowed Indian tribes, and individual Indians to sell unoccupied lands that they claimed to be their own.

1889 Act

After years of trying to open Indian Territory, President Grover Cleveland, on March 2, 1889, signed the 1889 Act which officially opened the Unassigned Lands to white settlers under tenets of the Homestead Act. On a side-note, Grover Cleveland signed the Act into law days before his successor, Benjamin Harrison, took over as President of the United States. However, under a section in this original act, those who entered these unassigned lands illegally, before their respective racing times as designated in the President’s opening proclamation, would be denied the rights to the lands they claimed. These people were termed "Sooners,” with this section of the act being termed as the "sooner clause.” But there was growing political pressure to open these unassigned lands to settlement quickly. Thus, later in 1889, an amendment to the Indian Appropriations Act allowed President Benjamin Harrison to be involved in this historical bill as well, proclaiming unassigned lands were open for settlement under much less stringent rules.


Indian Appropriations Act Wikipedia

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