The Indian Problem

March 18, 2016

I grew up in central New York State where the Iroquois Indians had resided for generations before they were in effect virtually wiped out during the Eurocentric Revolutionary War. The problem turns out that they were Indians, not civilized “Americans”– they lived collectively instead of as individuals with private property. The policy became “kill the Indian, save the man” – be assimilated OR eliminated. No wonder my cultural conditioning led me (and millions of others) to believe that the Indians were merciless savages, as Thomas Jefferson told us in our sacred document, the Declaration of Independence.

In my 7th Grade history textbook, “Exploring New York State”, we were instructed that George Washington had traveled through the state in 1783 when he suggested “that it might become the ‘seat of empire'”. The authors defined empire: “vast power and wealth”, “supreme or greatest”, “the first among many”, and “the leader”.

The authors declared “The Iroquois were the Indian Masters of the State for thousands of years before the first white man came to America” but described as “primitive”, possessing “no machinery of any kind”, and their vast areas were covered with thick forests, unlike today when “more than half the land is cleared for ploughing and pasture”.

The authors then proudly proclaimed that “The coming of the white man changed the life of the Indian almost entirely…. During the Revolution which followed soon after the French wars [“French and Indian Wars”, 1754-1763], four of the Iroquois nations sided with the English”, such that “the principal Iroquois villages were destroyed…and their power was gone forever”. During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington intended “To put an end to these destructive attacks on the frontier settlements by ordering his army to crush the Indians” which culminated in the virtual total destruction of the Iroquois Confederacy from which they “never recovered” with all their villages destroyed along with their fruit orchards, growing crops, and their stores of food”.

One hundred years later, the Eurocentric New York State Assembly conducted an “Investigation of the INDIAN PROBLEM of the State of New York”(The Whipple Report, 1889). The Committee asked: “What can be done for the good of the Indian?”. The invariable response: “Exterminate the tribe and preserve the individual…”.

Testimonies before the Committee:

Syracuse Univ Chancellor Sims, declared the need to “Obliterate the whole tribe; make them citizens; divide all the lands among them and put them under the laws of citizenship in the State. It is the merest farce in the world to treat them as a nation.”

The Syracuse Congregational Sunday School Field Secretary William A. Duncan: “The Indian will never be civilized until he ceases to be a communist. This tribal relationship is the bane of civilization, the strongest ally of savagery.”

T.W. Jackson, US agent for the Six Nations: “the quicker there is something done to force them to citizenship, to force them to school and to act like men, the quicker they will learn.”

Dr. Jonathan Kneelant of Syracuse, NY, a physician to the Onondaga tribe: “I have recommended that they be detribalized and made citizens.”

Mr. William Newman, supt of schools on the Onondaga reservation: “They ought to be put just where you and I are, under the same law, the same hopes, the same rewards and punishments, and be absorbed into citizenship.”

New York State Supt of Education Andrew Draper: “Action should be taken which…will result finally in breaking up the reservation system and in the absorption of these wards into the citizenship of the state.”

Bishop Huntington of Syracuse: “The present tribal arrangement is a fatal bar to real progress and utterly destructive of anything that deserves to be called civilization. It discourages industry, it lowers self-respect, it shelters laziness, it destroys all wholesome stimulus to thrift and economy.”

US Secretary of the Interior, L.Q.C. Lamar, in his 1886 annual report, said: “As I stated in my last annual report, the only alternative now presented to the American Indian race is speedy entrance into the pale of American civilization or absolute extinction.”

The Committee Members Reported: “If the State or nation must support and protect the Indians, it should also have control over them….Plainly and bluntly, his consent to any measures manifestly and clearly tending to benefit and improve him should no longer be asked.  No harm can come from this course, because if past history is any guide, whatever may have occurred or is likely to happen elsewhere, there is little danger that the State of New York will do any injustice to its Indians.”

It is the belief of the committee that no body of men ever prospered who held property in land in common.  The plan destroys individual effort, and takes away the desire and ambition to acquire and own rights in property separate from others, which is so important a factor in the progress of any race.  Land in severalty has, in all cases where the experiment has been tried, proved a success.

The Committee Report recommends for the consideration of the Assembly: (1) That a compulsory attendance school law be enacted…. and (2) That the lands of the several reservations be allotted in severalty among the several members of the tribe…This allotment in severalty…should comprise a radical uprooting of the whole tribal system, giving to each individual absolute ownership of his share of the land in fee.

The Committee concluded: “These Indian people have been kept as “wards” or children long enough. They should now be educated to be men, not Indians, and it is the earnest belief of the committee that when the suggestions made, or at least the more important of them are accomplished facts, and the Indians of the State are absorbed into the great mass of the American people, then, and not before, will the ‘Indian problem’ be solved”.

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