Reforming Indian Policy
Digital History ID 715
Helen Hunt Jackson
Like Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, and Silent Spring, Helen Hunt Jackson's Century of Dishonor aroused the nation's conscience and stimulated political action against injustice, in this case the nation's unjust treatment of Indians. Jackson's goals--education and individual land ownership--were embraced by many late 19th-century Indian reformers.
There is not among these three hundred bands of Indians one which has not suffered cruelly at the hands either of the Government or of white settlers. The poorer, the more insignificant, the more helpless the band, the more certain the cruelty and outrage to which they have been subjected....
It makes little difference...where one opens the record of the history of the Indians; every page and every year has its dark stain. The story of one tribe is the story of all, varied only by differences of time and place....Colorado is as greedy and unjust in 1880 as was Georgia in 1830, and Ohio in 1795, and the United States government breaks promises now as deftly as then, and with the added ingenuity from long practice....
To assume that it would be easy...to undo the mischief and hurt of the long past...is the blunder of a hasty and uninformed judgment. The notion which seems to be growing more prevalent, that simply to make all Indians at once citizens of the United States would be a...panacea for all their ills...is a very inconsidered one.... Nevertheless, it is true, as well stated by one of the superintendents of Indian Affairs in 1857, that “so long as they are not citizens of the United States, their rights of property must remain insecure against invasion. The doors of the federal tribunals being barred against them....The utter absence of individual title to particular lands deprives every one among them of the chief incentive to labor and exertion....”
Cheating, robbing, breaking promises--these three are clearly things which must cease to be done. One more thing, also, and that is the refusal of the protection of the law to the Indian's right of property....
When these four things have ceased to be done, time, statesmanship, philanthropy, and Christianity can slowly and surely do the rest.
Source: Helen Hunt Jackson, A Century of Dishonor (New York: 1881), 337-38, 340-42.
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