Image credit: Xiang Zhang (Xiang Zhang Fine Art)
Fifteen years before The Dawes Act became law on January 8, 1887, the U.S. Congress was having second thoughts about Indians being sovereign nations in “Indian Territory”. Indian Territory was the land promised at the end of the “Trail of Tears”. Today, we know it as the State of Oklahoma. Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 was the ethnic cleansing of the Indians east of the Mississippi to their new promised land west of the Mississippi. What is wrong with this picture of a homeland supposedly protected from land-hungry whites suddenly transformed into a landscape of “Oklahoma Sooners” riding buckboards and horses galloping into Indian Territory to stake their claim? In order for bills to become laws in America, they must be voted on and pass in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. By studying the bills offered in the run up to the Dawes Act, we see the impetus and motivation behind the Dawes Act.
On May 2, 1872, the House of Representatives put forth bill H.R. 2635 which read in part, “..therefore we do not believe it good policy to give these Indians such an organic act as was contemplated by them when they proposed for the acceptance of Congress the Ocmulgee constitution, which contemplated the establishment of a territorial government, which possessed sovereign power, with the right to elect its governor, with no power left to Congress to supervise its legislation, and the citizen living under it being required, when he accepted an office in the territory, to swear allegiance to the Ocmulgee constitution only, instead of to the Constitution of the United States…The territory now in possession of the several tribes which are sought to be brought under the control of this organic act is a part of the Louisiana purchase, by which soil and sovereignty passed to the United States…This doctrine is clearly established in the case of Johnson vs. M’Intosh…”
It is of utmost importance to remember that the first legal precedent the congressmen cite is Johnson vs. M’Intosh, the 1823 Supreme Court decision we now know as the infamous “Doctrine of Discovery”. This case involved two land companies, both claiming ownership to the same area of land. One argued that it bought the land from the Indians and the other claiming it bought the land from the government. When the court ruled in favor of only the government having the right to sell land by right of colonial “discovery”, this opened the door for Andrew Jackson to grab all the land east of the Mississippi for white settlement. Forty two years later Congressman Isaac C. Parker used this same racist colonial legal precedent to formulate H.R. Bill 2635 which would grab all the land west of the Mississippi for white settlement.
Congressman Parker knew exactly what he was doing, for he wrote in his bill, “…but we are equally clear the exercise of such power would involve the repeal or violation of all the treaties made with these Indians.”
All the treaties made with the Indians of Oklahoma were broken based on the 1823 U.S. Supreme decision we call “The Doctrine of Discovery”. This cornerstone of U.S. law is simply stated in Black’s Law Dictionary: “Discovery-International Law-As the foundation for a claim of national ownership or sovereignty, discovery is the finding of a country, continent, or island previously unknown, or previously known only to its uncivilized inhabitants.”
Of the at least 250 treaties made with the Indians, not one treaty has ever been honored. Someone might ask, “Aren’t the reservations the result of treaties?” If the reservations were the result of treaties, then the Indians would own the reservations under their feet. Though the Indians have lived on these lands for thousands of years, according to the white man’s law, Indians have only the right to occupy “government land”.
By the Supreme Court, in 1823, citing the Pope granting land title to white explorers, like Columbus, they have written themselves a land title to the entire continent and now they want to talk about illegal immigrants! Never mind that there were already people living there.
From the north to the south of the Americas and around the globe the extracting of native rights and resources goes on.
Colonialism is too smart to come out openly and say, ”We own your land because we discovered it”. It makes its case as an inconspicuous footnote, a seeming afterthought—Johnson v. M’Intosh.
Two hundred years of colonial law is two hundred years too much.
President, American Indian Genocide Museum