New Directions in Government Policy
Digital History ID 709
The Board of Indian Commissioners
In this report, the Indian commissioners issued a stinging indictment of previous government policies toward Indians. The commissioners then recommended that tribal lands be allotted to individual Indians, that Indian children be educated to become American citizens, and that the government no longer make treaties with Indian tribes--recommendations that would be put into effect later in the century.
The history of the government's connections with the Indians is a shameful record of broken treaties and unfulfilled promises.
The history of the border white man's connection with the Indians is a sickening record of murder, outrage, robbery, and wrongs committed by the former as the rule, and occasional savage outbreaks and unspeakably barbarous acts of retaliation by the latter as the exception....
The testimony of some of our highest military officers of the United States is on record to the effect that, in our Indian wars, almost without exception, the first aggressions have been made by the white man.... In addition to the class of robbers and outlaws who find impunity in their nefarious pursuits upon the frontiers, there is a large class of professedly reputable men who use every means in their power to bring on Indian wars, for the sake of the profit to be realized from the presence of troops and the expenditure of government funds in their midst. They proclaim death to the Indians at all times, in words and publications, making no distinction between the innocent and the guilty....
Paradoxical as it may seem, the white man has been the chief obstacle in the way of Indian civilization.... The soldiers, sent for their protection, too often carried demoralization and disease into their midst. The agent, appointed to be their friend and counselor, business manager, and the almoner of the government bounties, frequently went among them only to enrich himself in the shortest time, at the cost of the Indians, and spent the largest available sum of the government money with the least ostensible beneficial result....
The policy of collecting the Indian tribes upon small reservations...seems to be the best that can be devised.... When upon the reservation they should be taught as soon as possible the advantage of individual ownership of property; and should be given land in severalty as soon as it is desired by any of them, and the tribal relations should be discouraged.... The titles should be inalienable from the family of the holder for at least two or three generations. The civilized tribes now in the Indian territory should be taxed, and made citizens of the United States as soon as possible.
The treaty system should be abandoned, and as soon as any just method can be devised to accomplish it, existing treaties should be abrogated.
The legal status of the uncivilized Indians should be that of wards of the government; the duty of the latter being to protect them, to educate them in industry, the arts of civilization, and the principles of Christianity; elevate them to the rights of citizenship, and to sustain and clothe them until they can support themselves.
The payment of money annuities to the Indians should be abandoned, for the reason that such payments encourage idleness and vice, to the injury of those whom it is intended to benefit. Schools should be established, and teachers employed by the government to introduce the English language in every tribe. It is believed that many of the difficulties with Indians occur from misunderstanding as to the meaning and intention of either party. The teachers employed should be nominated by some religious body having a mission nearest to the location of the school. The establishment of Christian missions should be encouraged, and their schools fostered. The pupils should at least receive the rations and clothing they would get if remaining with their families. The religion of our blessed Saviour is believed to be the most effective agent for the civilization of any people.
Source: Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners (Washington, 1869), 5-11.
Copyright 2016 Digital History