Published on August 26, 2013 by Amy
When European settlers arrived on the North American continent at the end of the fifteenth century, they encountered diverse Native American cultures—as many as 900,000 inhabitants with over 300 different languages. These people, whose ancestors crossed the land bridge from Asia in what may be considered the first North American immigration, were virtually destroyed by the subsequent immigration that created the United States. This tragedy is the direct result of treaties, written and broken by foreign governments, of warfare, and of forced assimilation.
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Today, people see the policies of the past with 21st century eyes. One might wonder how the nation’s indigenous population became “inferior” cultures in their own land, or how a nation could have committed such atrocities in the name of “progress”. One might question whether it is acceptable to make national decisions without involving in the decision making process those who will be most drastically affected.
In 1786, the United States established its first Native American reservation and approached each tribe as an independent nation. This policy remained intact for more than one hundred years. But as President James Monroe noted in his second inaugural address in 1821, treating Native Americans this way “flattered their pride, retarded their improvement, and in many instances paved the way to their destruction.”
In addition, Monroe observed that America’s westward growth “has constantly driven them back, with almost the total sacrifice of the lands which they have been compelled to abandon. They have claims on the magnanimity and . . . on the justice of this nation which we must all feel.” Despite Monroe’s concern for the plight of Native Americans, his administration successfully removed them from states north of the Ohio River.