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Toward a New Policy: Concentrating Indians on Reservations
Digital History ID 680

Author:   William Medill

Annotation: Already by 1848 it was clear to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the area west of the Mississippi would not remain reserved for Indians. He calls for a new policy: concentrating Indians on distinct reservations.

Document: Stolid and unyielding in his nature, and inveterately wedded to the savage habits, customs, and prejudices in which he has been reared and trained, it is seldom that the full blood Indian of our hemisphere can, in immediate juxtaposition with the white population, be brought farther within the pale of civilization than to adopt its vices; under the corrupting influences of which, too indolent to labor, and too weak to resist, he soon sinks into misery and despair.... Cannot this sad and depressing tendency of things be checked, and the past be at least measurably repaired by better results in the future?....

The policy already begun and relied on to accomplish objects so momentous and so desirable to every Christian and philanthropist is, as rapidly as it can safely and judiciously be done, to colonize our Indian tribes beyond the reach, for some years, of our white population; confining each within a small district of country, so that, as the game decreases and becomes scarce, the adults will gradually be compelled to resort to agriculture and other kinds of labor to obtain subsistence.... To establish, at the same time, a judicious and well devised system of manual labor schools for the education of the youth of both sexes in letters--the males in practical agriculture and the various necessary and useful mechanic arts, and the females in the different branches of housewifery, including spinning and weaving....

The strongest propensities of an Indian's nature are his desire for war and his love of the chase. These lead him to display tact, judgment, and energy, and to endure great hardships, privation, and suffering; but in all other respects he is indolent and inert, physically and mentally.... But anything like labor is distasteful and utterly repugnant to his feelings and natural prejudices. He considers it a degradation. His subsistence and dress are obtained principally by means of the chase; and if this resource is insufficient, and it be necessary to cultivate the earth or to manufacture materials for dress, it has to be done by the women, who are their "hewers of wood and drawers of water".... When compelled to face the stern necessities of life and resort to labor for a maintenance, he in a very short time becomes a changed being.... Such is the experience in the cases of several of the tribes not long since colonized, who a few years ago were mere nomads and hunters.... The most marked change, however, when this transition takes place, is in the condition of the females. She who had been the drudge and the slave then begins to assume her true position as an equal; and her labor is transferred from the field to her household--to the care of her family and children....

Source: House Executive Document, No. 1, 30th Cong., 2d sess., serial 537, 585-89.

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