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Native Americans in the United States

Early relations with European Colonists
From the outset European colonists had, at best, lived in an uneasy truce with the Native Americans. While the groups sometimes cooperated, the Natives were inexorably displaced from the most favorable land, and frequently resisted this process with violence.

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.

As of 2000, the largest tribes in the U.S. by population were Cherokee, Navajo, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois and Pueblo. In 2000 eight of ten Americans with Native American ancestry were of mixed blood. It is estimated that by 2100 that figure will rise to nine of ten.

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