Although in recent years it has become popular to assert that
Native Americans learned scalping from Europeans, historical evidence
suggests that scalping by Native Americans had been practiced long
before contact with Europeans. The first reported case of white
men scalping Native Americans took place in New Hampshire colony
on February 20, 1725.
Four Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy sided with the British
and the Tories in the American Revolutionary War. The colonists
were especially outraged by the Wyoming Valley Massacre and the
Cherry Valley Massacre, which occurred in 1778. In 1779 Congress
sent Major General John Sullivan on what has become known as the
Sullivan Expedition to neutralize the Iroquois threat to the American
side. The two allied nations were rewarded, at least temporarily,
by keeping title to their lands after the Revolution. The title
was later purchased very cheaply by Massachusetts and sold off
in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and the Holland Purchase, after
which by treaty these lands became part of New York State. The
tribes were either moved to reservations or sent westward. Part
of the Cayuga Nation was granted a reservation in British Canada.
Indian Wars and Forced Relocations
In the 19th century, the Westward expansion of the United States
incrementally expelled large numbers of Native Americans from
vast areas of their territory, either by forcing them into marginal
lands farther and farther west, or by outright massacres. Under
President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal
Act of 1830, which forced the Five Civilized Tribes from the
east onto western reservations, primarily to take their land
for settlement. The forced migration was marked by great hardship
and many deaths. Its route is known as the Trail of Tears.
Conflicts generally known at the time as "Indian Wars" broke
out between U.S. forces and many different tribes. Authorities
entered numerous treaties during this period, but later abrogated
many for various reasons. Well-known military engagements include
the atypical Native American victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn
in 1876, and the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in
1890. On January 31, 1876 the United States government ordered
all remaining Native Americans to move into reservations or reserves.
This set about the downturn of Prairie Culture that had developed
around the use of the horse for hunting, travel and trading.
American policy toward Native Americans has been an evolving process.
In the late nineteenth century reformers in efforts to civilize
Indians adapted the practice of educating native children in Indian
Boarding Schools. These schools, which were primarily run by Christians,
proved traumatic to Indian children, who were forbidden to speak
their native languages, taught Christianity instead of their native
religions and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Indian
identity and adopt European-American culture, despite many of the
practices being in violation of clauses of the U.S. Constitution
separating church and state. There are also many documented cases
of sexual, physical and mental abuses occurring at these schools.
Many other attempts were made to deprive the American Indians
of their culture, language, and religious beliefs, some of which
are reported to continue into current times.
Current Status of Native Americans in the US
Military defeat, cultural pressure, confinement on reservations,
forced cultural assimilation, outlawing of native languages and
culture, forced sterilizations, termination policies of the 1950s,
and 1960s, and slavery have had deleterious effects on Native
Americans' mental and ultimately physical health. Contemporary
health problems include poverty, alcoholism, heart disease, diabetes
and New World Syndrome.
As recently as the 1960s, Indians were being
jailed for teaching their traditional beliefs. As recently
as the 1970s, the Bureau
of Indian Affairs was still actively pursuing a policy of "assimilation",
the goal of which was to eliminate the reservations and steer Indians
into mainstream U.S. culture. Even their lands are perhaps no longer
safe; as of 2004, there are still claims of theft of Indian land
for the coal and uranium it contains.
In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face
a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes,
largely due to the
work of one man, Walter Ashby Plecker. In 1912, Plecker became
the first registrar of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics,
serving until 1946. An avowed white supremacist and fervent advocate
of eugenics, Plecker believed that the state's Native Americans
had been "mongrelized" with its African American population.
A law passed by the state's General Assembly recognized only two
races, "white" and "colored". Plecker pressured
local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the
state as "colored", leading to massive destruction of
records on the state's Native American community.
Even after his death, Plecker still haunts the state's Native
American community. In order to receive federal recognition and
the benefits it confers, tribes must prove their continuous existence
since 1900. Plecker's policies have made it impossible for Virginia
tribes to do so. The federal government, while aware of Plecker's
destruction of records, has so far refused to bend on this bureaucratic
requirement. A bill currently before U.S. Congress to ease this
requirement has been favorably reported out of a key Senate committee,
but faces strong opposition in the House from a Virginia member
concerned that federal recognition could open the door to gambling
in the state.
In the early 21st century, Native American communities remain
an enduring fixture on the United States landscape, in the American
economy, and in the lives of Native Americans. Communities have
consistently formed governments that administer services like firefighting,
natural resource management and law enforcement. Most Native American
communities have established court systems to adjudicate matters
related to local ordinances, and most also look to various forms
of moral and social authority vested in traditional affiliations
within the community. To address the housing needs of Native Americans,
Congress passed the Native American Housing and Self Determination
Act (NAHASDA) in 1996. This legislation replaced public housing,
and other 1937 Housing Act programs directed towards Indian Housing
Authorities, with a block grant program directed towards Tribes.
Gambling has become a leading industry. Casinos operated by many
Native American governments in the United States are creating a
stream of gambling revenue that some communities are beginning
to use as leverage to build diversified economies. Native American
communities have waged and prevailed in legal battles to assure
recognition of rights to self-determination and to use of natural
resources. Some of those rights, known as treaty rights are enumerated
in early treaties signed with the young United States government.
Tribal sovereignty has become a cornerstone of American jurisprudence,
and at least on the surface, in national legislative policies.
Although many Native American tribes have casinos, they are a source
of conflict. Most tribes, especially small ones such as the Winnemem
Wintu of Redding, California, feel that casinos and their proceeds
destroy culture from the inside out. These tribes refuse to participate
in the gaming industry.
Many of the smaller eastern tribes have been trying to gain official
recognition of their tribal status. The recognition confers some
benefits, including the right to label arts and crafts as Native
American and they can apply for grants that are specifically reserved
for Native Americans. But gaining recognition as a tribe is extremely
difficult because of a Catch-22 in the process. To be established
as a tribal groups, members have to submit extensive genealogical
proof of tribal descent, yet in past years many Native Americans
denied their Native American heritage, because it would have deprived
them of many rights, such as the right of probate. The Waccamaw
tribe and the Pee Dee tribe of South Carolina were granted official
recognition February 17, 2005. Two other tribal applications were
denied for lack of documentation.
According to 2003 United States Census Bureau estimates, a little
over one third of the 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United
States live in three states: California at 413,382, Arizona at
294,137 and Oklahoma at 279,559.