As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 110 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Whose Manifest Destiny?  The Federal Government and the American Indians

Photo of bison skulls 1870

During the era of Manifest Destiny, Indian people across the continent continued to be the object of stereotypes - savage men and women who had no legitimate rights to land - land they could not and would not tame for profit. Those stereotypes have been slow to diminish. As westernern novelist Larry McMurtry explains, "Thanks largely to the movies, the lies about the West are more potent than the truth" (New York Review of Books, "Broken Promises," 10/23/97, p. 16). We can really see how potent these stereotypes of Indians and the "Wild West" were in this short video, How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native Americans at

These stereotypes have also been perpetuated by our textbooks which tell us that Indians massacred good, strong, Protestant pioneers moving across land that was theirs for the taking. But similar to the stereotypes put forth by Hollywood, there are few facts to back this up. Indeed, during the 17 years of the largest westward movement - 1842-1859 - of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the Great Plains, less than 400 - or less than 0.1% - were killed by American Indians. (Loewen, Teaching What Really Happened, 2012: p. 69)

These stereotypes and inaccuracies - some historians call them outright lies - are key to our story about Manifest Destiny. Over the next two days, we will continue to address and deconstruct these stereotypes and lies.

Whose Manifest Destiny?  The Federal Government and the American Indian
Discussion Goals:
  1. To study the attitudes and actions of European colonists that helped shape the philosophical foundations of American Indian policy.
  2. To examine relevant federal policies through the end of the nineteenth century.
  3. To learn about the opposition to Indian Removal.
  4. To understand California's "Indian Problem" and the conflicting white interpretation of how to handle this problem.
  5. To chronologically examine the massacre at Indian Island in Eureka, California on February 16, 1860.

Goal #1: To study the attitudes and actions of European colonists that helped shape the philosophical foundations of American Indian policy

Poster of Indian Sovereignty

In order to understand how American Indians were treated during the era of Manifest Destiny, we need to step back in time a bit - back into the colonial era. It was during the first 170 years of American history that the foundations for American Indian policies were laid. During most of the colonial era, the British Crown dealt with the Indian tribes as foreign sovereign nations. How have we defined sovereignty in other discussions?

While the colonists recognized the political sovereignty of Indian nations, their relations with the Indians were guided by two attitudes that encouraged them to ignore the reality of Indian sovereignty.

  1. Intolerance.  Map of Pre-Contact Indian NationsMost colonists were intolerant and fearful of American Indians whom they perceived to be a single, standard, homogeneous, and heathen Indian nation - and as such, a threat to white progress, humanity, and most importantly - Christianity.
  2. Belief in the superiority of Christianity and Western civilization over non-Christian, non-Western peoples.

These attitudes help to shape four colonial policies to deal with the Indian Nations:

  1. Pre-emption/Dispossession.  Using the Doctrine of Discovery, referred to as pre-emption in colonial times, the colonists claimed that they held title to all Indian land and that the Indians only had the right to occupy the land. Should Indians decide to sell their land, they could only sell it to the colonial conquerers.
  2. Removal.  But dispossession did not rid the colonists of the Indian "problem."  American Indians, they argued, needed to be removed from their land and Map of Removal of the Delaware Indiansrelocated elsewhere. As this map indicates, the Delaware Nation (Lenape) were removed from their traditional homeland in Pennsylvania as early as 1682 and by 1750, were mostly settled in Ohio. Once the United States came into being, they were removed several more times.
  3. Assimilation.  Wherever Indians lived, it was necessary for them to assimilate into American society - to adopt the characteristics of white Americans by accepting Christianity, as well as European culture and tradition.
  4. Elimination.  But what if Indians did not want to willingly give up their land or assimilate?  According to the historical values of Christianity, the colonists had the right to wage a "just war" against those who would not accept God's law or those who used violence against God's "elected" governors.   One of the first such "just wars" began on March 22, 1622, when the Algonquin Indians, the indigenous residents of what the English settlers called Jamestown, surprised the residents and killed 347 settlers in retribution for European encroachment upon their lands.

Thereafter, the colonial governor set the policy for dealing with American Indians with this pronouncement:  "It is infinitely better to have no heathen among us, who were but as thorns in our sides, than to be at peace and league with them."   (As quoted in Utley and Washburn, 1977:17.)  The colonists had tried to convince the Indians to barter for land.  But when the Indians refused, and finally resisted, they violated all natural laws and thereafter, possessed no rights which the English must respect - not even the right to life.  Accordingly the colonists set about eliminating the natives from the entire Tidewater area. By January 1623, the Virginia Council of Map of the Proclamation Line of 1763State proudly reported that more Indians had been killed in the previous year since the beginning of the colony.

By the middle of the 1700s, the British Crown gradually reinterpreted the nature of tribal sovereignty. As individual colonists continually encroached upon Indian lands, the British Crown assumed a protectorate position - arguing that the King must protect the tribes against colonial excesses and injustice. Thus, in 1755, the British government assumed direct responsibility for Indian affairs.

By the end of the colonial era, then, intolerance and Christian superiority guided colonial attitudes. In turn, the King adopted a protectionist attitude toward the American Indians. As we shall see, these attitudes helped to shape the Indian policies of the newly-created United States government.

Goal #2: To examine relevant federal policies through the end of the nineteenth century

After the colonists won independence from England, the newly-created United States government immediately claimed ownership of all Indian lands west of the Appalachians - land that had been designated as Indian Country (shown in red on the map) by the King's Proclamation Line of 1763. Americans justified taking this land because the Indians who had fought with the French during the French and Indian War had lost the war, and subsequently, also lost their land.

Map of Indian Country 1763Definition poster of Indian Country

Within seven years after the end of the Revolutionary War, the new American government created three distinct policies that determined how the Americans would deal with Indians in what had since 1763 been known as Indian Country: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790.

  1. 1787 - The Northwest Ordinance proclaimed that the federal government would observe "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed" except "in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress."
  2. "Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, the Constitution declares that Congress has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."
  3. 1790 - Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. This Congressional Act placed nearly all interaction between Indians and non-Indians under federal - not state - control,  as well as:

In 1824, the Indian Intercourse Act was amended. In this act, Congress created Indian Territory in the west that included the land area in all of present-day Kansas, most of Oklahoma, and parts of what later became Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming. The area was set aside for Indians who were to be removed from their ancestral lands which, in turn, would be settled by non-Indians. The area steadily decreased in size as the maps below of 1834, 1854, 1876, and 1889 indicate.

Map of Indian Country 1834Map Indian Country 1854MAP of Indian Country 1876Map Indian Country 1889

Thus, the legal and geographical nature of Indian Country changed dramatically in the Nineteenth Century. As the maps above indicate, Indian people saw their lands greatly diminished between 1763 and 1889:

"Honor the Treaties" poster

From the very beginning of the US government, Indian policies have been contradictory - in writing, most aimed to act in good faith toward the Indians, but in practice, these policies endorsed actions most beneficial to the non-Indian population. Indeed, because Indian nations were legally recognized as sovereign, the federal government immediately faced what soon became known to non-Indians as the "Indian problem" - while European Americans wanted to move westward and conquer all the land to the Pacific Ocean, it was clear that the hundreds of sovereign Indian nations were not going to willingly or voluntarily give up their land. Consequently, the United States government took two steps:

Treaties and Supreme Court Decisions

Treaties are legal, government-to-government agreements between two legitimate governments - in this case, the United States and an Indian nation. When an Indian nation signed a treaty, it agreed to give the federal government some or all of its land as well as some or all of its sovereign powers. In return, the federal government entered into a trust responsibility with the Indian Nation in which the federal government promised that in exchange for their land, it would:

Treaties were not the only legal entities that defined the federal relationship with Indian Nations. As early as 1823, the US Supreme Court also assumed that role. In what is known as the Marshall Trilogy, the Supreme Court established the doctrinal basis for interpreting federal Indian law and defining tribal sovereignty.

Thus, beginning with Johnson v. McIntosh, the Supreme Court produced two competing theories of tribal sovereignty:

Over the years, the Court has relied on one or the other of these theories in deciding tribal sovereignty cases. Whichever theory the Court favored in a given case largely determined the powers the tribe had and what protections they received against federal and state government encroachment.

The Marshall Trilogy cases bolstered the federal land-taking powers of the 371 treaties that were ratified by the U.S. until 1868. Indians during the era of Manifest Destiny were relegated to a kind of limited sovereignty that was to be governed by paternalistic trust and subject to the interpretation of the US government and its courts. By 1871, that paternalistic trust was clearly-articulated by Congress when it decided to end all government-to-government treaties with Indian nations. No longer would Indians have any negotiating power or say about their treatment at the hands of the US government. Thereafter, such determinations would be made as Congress passed various federal policies and laws. And in so doing, the federal government's trust responisibility began to erode.

Federal Indian Policies and Laws

The loss of Indian Country was just one of several legal ways that Indian sovereignty was diminished during the 19th Century. As Euro-Americans moved westward, they began to demand access to more territory - the vast majority of which was occupied by American Indians. Thus, from 1830 throughout the remainder of the Nineteenth Century, the federal government responded with five policies that aimed to open up Indian land to white settlement: removal, reservations, allotment boarding schools, and elimination. The federal implementation of each policy further eroded Indian sovereigny.

  1. Removal. By the early 1830s, about 80,000 members of the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw,and Seminole Nations lived on land that many Americans felt could be more profitably farmed and settled by non-Indians. But all five nations had signed treaties with the federal government guaranteeing the right to live in their ancestral lands and maintain Map of Removal, Trail of Tearstheir sovereign systems of tribal government. Not surprisingly, these nations were unwilling to give up their land and to negotiate new treaties with the federal government that would give away any of their territory.
  2. Reservations. The men who created the reservation system believed that if Indians could be confined to one particular geographical place reserved for them, they could become 'civilized" and assimilated into American life and transformed into good Christian farmers. They could be encouraged to stop being Indians and to become like white men. Thus, the reservations were to make sure the remaining tribes were converted to Christianity; taught English, sewing, and small-scale farming; and ultimately, to be Americanized.
  3. Allotment. Many Americans believed that Indians would never become Americanized as long as they lived in large reservation communities in which they celebrated their cultural and spiritual traditions and owned land communally. Further, American policy makers believed that the reservation did not give the Indian an incentive to improve his or her situation. So, the federal government's new policy was designed to detribalize the Indian by destroying the idea of communal land ownership on the reservations. This policy became law under the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 - the federal government's first, large-scale, official attempt to allot all remaining Indian land. The important provisions of the Act were:
  4. Boarding Schools. At the same time that the Dawes Act was being conceptualized, American policy makers were also experimenting with a new assimilation policy. Some reasoned that for Indians to really become assimilated, Indian children would have to be taken from their tribal environment and reeducated. Thus it was that in 1879, a former Indian fighter, Colonel Richard Pratt, created the first large Indian boarding school in the nation - the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania - dedicated to totally Americanizing Indian children.

    Tom Torino before and after photographsPhoto Indian Boarding SchoolPhoto of Indian Boarding School

  5. Elimination. The rationale for eliminating Indians grew out of a belief that Indian resistance was equivalent to a declaration of war against the US. Using such a rationale, in the late 1800s the US Army declared war upon several tribes, began eliminating resisters, Map of American Indian Warsand sought to absolutely subjugate any survivors. But war was hardly a last resort nor was it something used only at the end of the nineteenth century.

By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the American Indian population had been dramatically reduced, not only due to the policies adopted by the US government, but also due to disease and malnutrition - both of which had been byproducts of Indian contact with European Americans and American federal policy

Many people have called the culmination of these federal policies an act of genocide.

Do any of these federal policies and acts constitute genocide? In 1944, the word genocide was created from the Greek word "genos" meaning race - plus "cide" from Latin "cidium" meaning to kill or an act of killing. In 1948, the U.N. adopted its definition - that genocide involves actions committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, or economic group. Such actions against a group include:

Cultural genocide occurs when governments officially sanction the removal and/or repression of a particular group and subsequently eliminates and/or weakens parts of that group.

Goal #3: To learn about the opposition to Indian Removal.

Until very recently, historians generally believed there was little to no opposition to one of the federal government's Indian policies - removal. However, in the late 1990s an historian named Mary Hershberger published and article in the Journal of American History in which she wrote not only of opposition to the Indian Removal Act, but also about the key role women played in opposing Image of the Petition against the Indian Removal Actthe Act. This is what happened:

Although the women were not able to stop the passage of the Indian Removal Act - which was passed in the House by a narrow vote of 102-97 and by the Senate with a vote of 28-19 - many women became politicized and empowered by their efforts. It will be many of these very same women who will come together 18 years later at The Seneca Falls Convention which began the American Women's Rights Movement.

Women were not the only Americans who opposed the Act. Many Christian missionaries, including the well-respected Jeremiah Evarts, also objected to passage of the Act. Future United States President Abraham Lincoln strongly opposed it, as did Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee who vocally spoke out against the Act. The Act was ultimately passed only after strong and bitter debate in Congress during which opponents argued that the rights of Indian nations and the honor of the US were more important than U.S. expansion.

That this debate spoke to a large audience is indicated by Martin Van Buren, who wrote regarding the struggle: "(this issue) will in all probability long as the government itself, and will in time, (continue to) occupy the minds and feelings of our people."

The debate over Indian Removal should be familar by now as it brought into focus a number of conflicting views on how the U.S. was to grow. Which principles should Americans use to guide the development of this republic. Thus, both extraordinary and ordinary women and men raised the same questions that Sam Haynes tells us were debated 16 years later during the Mexican American War: "Is the U.S. going to be a good nation or is it going to become a great nation? Is it going to become a nation that will protect the sovereignty of neighboring nation states, or a nation that will aggressively pursue its own self interests?" ( James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse.)

Goal #4 - To understand California's "Indian Problem" and the conflicting white interpretation of how to handle this problem.

By 1848 - just before gold was discovered in California - somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Indians and less than 2,000 white people lived in California. Later that year when gold was discovered, the population mix began a dramatic alteration. By the time California became a state in 1850, California Indians were a minority and a "problem" for the newly-migrated Californians. For the next decade, the "problem" of what to do with California's Indian population was tackled by the new state government and the people of California, as well as the federal government. But each of these stakeholdersMap of pre-contact California Indian nations had various and conflicting interpretations of how to handle the "Indian problem."

  1. The State of California wanted to:
  2. California citizens wanted the Indians removed from Northern California as quickly as possible.
  3. The Federal government was bound by its trust responsibility to Indian Nations throughout the United States to maintain some degree of safety and well-being among the Indian People of California.

During its first ten years as a state, California neither recognized Indians as citizens with civil rights, nor did it treat Indians as sovereign people. As soon as the state government was created, the new legislators - those men largely ruled by pro-slavery and pro-southern sentiments - passed a series of legislative acts that legally did the following

Examples of such Legislation:

What were the goals of such legislation?

  1. Promote Indian slavery. Californians interpreted the 1850 law in such a way that all Indians, including children, faced indentured servitude through a simple procedure of arrest and "hiring out" through any local justice-of-the-peace. Once they were indentured, the term limitation was almost always ignored, thus resulting in slavery.
  2. Deny Indians equal protection under the law by forbidding Indians to defend themselves in a court of law, describing the only type of life acceptable via Euro-American customs, allowing the courts to contract Indians out as servants.
  3. Pomote vigilante justice by empowering and funding militias. In 1850 with the first California constitution, Article VII gave the Governor the power "to call for the militia, to execute the laws of the State, to suppress insurrections, and repel invasions." In his annual address to the California Legislature on Jan. 7, 1851, Governor Burnett highlighted significant events of 1850, including "repeated calls ... upon the Executive for the aid of the militia to resist and punish the attacks of the Indians upon the frontier." During 1850, Governor Burnett called out the militia two times. Additionally ...

Studies conducted in the late 20th Century of the California archives found that while it was impossible to determine exactly the total number of units and men engaged in militia attacks against the California Indians during the period of 1850 to 1859, the official record verifies that the governors of California called out the militia on "Expeditions against the Indians" on a number of occasions, and at considerable expense - $843,573.48. (Comptroller of the State of California, Expenditures for Military Expeditions Against Indians, 1851-1859, Sacramento: The Comptroller, Secretary of State, California State Archives, Located at "Roster" Comptroller No. 574, Vault, Bin 393.)

Goal #5: To chronologically examine the massacre at Indian Island in Eureka, California on February 16, 1860

Indian Island PhotographPre-Contact.  About 1500-2000 Wiyot people lived in their ancestral territory that included the current tows of McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Arcata, Eureka, Kneeland, Loleta, Fortuna, Ferndale, and Rohnerville.  Indian Island was and remains the center of the Wiyot People’s world.  It is home to the ancient village of Tuluwat and the traditional site of the World Renewal Ceremony held annually to welcome the new year.  The ceremony lasted between 7-10 days and began with the men leaving the island and returning the next day with the needed supplies.  The elders, women, and children remained behind. The ground beneath Tuluwat village is an enormous clamshell mound (or midden). This mound, measuring over six acres in size and estimated to be over 1,000 years old, is an irreplaceable physical history of the Wiyot way of life. Contained within it are remains of meals, tools, and ceremonies, as well as many burial sites.

1850.  The town of Eureka was founded by a group of miners who needed a more convenient route to the overland trail from Sacramento the California gold fields.  Shortly thereafter, Humboldt Bay became the busiest port between San Francisco and Portland.  As Eureka’s population and economy grew, its white residents became increasingly uneasy about local Indians whom ranchers blamed for thefts and cattle loss.  Merchants began to see Indian villages that thrived along the Bay as a direct threat to their growing trade.

1860. An army officer at Fort Humboldt observed, "Cold-blooded Indian killing being considered honorable, shooting Indians and murdering even squaws and children that have been domesticated for months and years, without a moment's warning and with as little compunction as they would rid themselves of a dog." An editorial in the Humboldt Times opined, "The whites cannot afford horses and cattle for their [Indian] sustenance, and will not. Ergo, unless Government provides for the Indians, the settlers must exterminate them."

In early February, the Humboldt Volunteer Militia was created, two years after Humboldt citizens sent the following letter to the governor:

"It has now been two months since the Indians in this vicinity started in open hostility to us, though so far they have confined their operations to the trail connecting this County to Weaverville. This being our direct channel of communication with the Sacramento Valley, and a trail over which the United States Mail must pass once a week, it is of the utmost importance that it should be kept open. The Indians on this trail first manifested their hostility to us by shooting a man who was traveling alone. We supposed that a few men would be sufficient to punish the Indians and make them ask for peace, and accordingly, a party was organized, provided for by private means and sent in search of the hostiles. After trailing the Indians for several days, they were attacked from ambush and one man was killed. In the meantime their camp which they had left unguarded was attacked, and ten mules were killed. This party consisted of only twelve men. Subsequently, another party of twenty-five men went out who were provisioned at a heavy private expense. In endeavoring to drive the Indians from the vicinity of the trails, they were fired upon in a deep canyon, and one man was killed, another wounded. The company has now disbanded, not feeling inclined to incur further danger and hardships at their own expense. The trails are now closed, there being no travel over them except by night or in large parties. The question now is what is there done? There are no troops here at the garrison and the people are not able to carry on a war at their own expense. The people of the county are of the opinion that if the militia could be called out, and arms furnished, the merchants would feel encouraged to furnish supplies, and wait for the State to pay. We can furnish the men if they can only be supplied."

On February 16, The Indian Island Massacre occured. A group of white settlers armed with hatchets, clubs, and knives paddled to Indian Island where Wiyot men, women, and children were sleeping after a week of ceremonial dancing.  Two other villages were raided on the same night – one on the Eel River and another on the South Spit.  Somewhere between 80-100 people were killed on Indian Island.  A baby, Jerry James, was the only infant that survived the massacre on the Island.  Another 200-600 Wiyot were massacred in the other raids.

Journalist Bret Harte published a front-page editorial in The Northern Californian in which he expresses horror over the massacre. Subsequently, he was run out of the county and moved to San Francisco.

After 1860.  An estimated 200 Wiyot people still lived in the area.  Federal troops collected the surviving Wiyot people from other villages and confined them to the Klamath River Reservation.  After a disastrous flood on the Klamath, the Wiyot were moved to the Smith River Reservation and later to the Hoopa and Round Valley Reservations.

1870.  A shipyard repair facility was built on part of the Island and operated there until the 1980s.  During that time, it dumped creosote, solvents, and other chemicals that were used to maintain ships.

Late 19th Century.  Non-Indian settlers built dikes and channels on Indian Island that changed tidal action along the shore and caused some erosion of the clamshell-shaped mound.

Early 1900s.  A church group purchased 20 acres in the Eel River estuary for homeless Wiyot people.  This land later became known as the Table Bluff Rancheria of Wiyot Indians.

1910.  Under 100 full blood Wiyot people were Photograph of Wiyott Fund for Indian Islandestimated to be living in Wiyot territory.

1913. Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber sent one of his staff members, Llewellyn Loud to Humboldt County to collect Indian human remains. Loud conducted most of his work at Indian Island. He recorded 24 skeletons existing in 22 graves that existed prior to the 1860 massacre.

1918. Loud published his report and thereafter, Indian Island became a popular site for local hobbyists and entrepreneurs to search for collectables and human remains.

1923. Eureka dentist, H. H. Stuart began extensive excavations of Indian graves at Indian Island. He eventually dug up 382 graves.

1960. The City of Eureka acquired ownership of most of Indian Island.

1961. Eureka High School teacher and collector of local history, Cecile Clarke received uanimous approval from the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors "to excavate and preserve relics of Indian tribes native to this region" on Indian Island.

1963-69. Clarke and her team excavated sites on Indian Island. It carried out radiocarbon dates tests confirming the site's original occupation as 880A.D.

1992.  In February, the first candlelight vigil was held to remember those who lost their lives in the Massacre and to help the community heal.  About 75 people participated that year and by 1996, over 300 participated.  The Wiyot hope that at some  point, the vigil can be held on Indian Island which remains inaccessible to the Wiyot.

2001.  The Wiyot Tribe purchased 1.5 acres of Indian Island and began cleaning the debris and pollutants left on the village site.

May 18, 2006.  The Eureka City County unanimously approved a resolution to return 60 acres, comprising the northeastern tip, of Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe. Some of the remaining Wiyot people lived on the 88-acre Table Bluff Reservation and 550 members were enrolled in the Wiyot nation.

February 28, 2009. The Wiyot Tribe had its 17th candlelight vigil

February 2010. The Wiyot Tribe commemorated the 150 year anniversary of the Indian Island Massacre.

"Whose Manifest Destiny?    The Federal Government and the Native Americans"

  1. By the end of the 19th Century:
  2. Nineteenth Century federal policies were directly responsible for the above consequences.  Such policies, taken as a whole, indicate that the loss of 95% of a specific population of people over a 100-year period was not inadvertent, nor was it an inevitable or unintended byproduct of progress.  Rather, these policies were the result of intentional decisions made by federal policymakers to officially remove the so-called "Indian problem." 
  3. The Doctrine of Discovery - the Pope's international law declaring that White, Christian Europeans had the right to discover and conquer the land of heathens and that such people thereafter only had the right of occupation - was incorporated into colonial law, U.S. law, and then institutionalized through the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Johnson v. McIntosh. Today the Doctrine of Discovery still governs the rights of Indian people who cannot sell, or lease , or develop their land without permission of the Department of Interior .
  4. Treaties - the legal, government-to-government agreements between the United States and an Indian Nation - formed the original cornerstone of American Indian policy.  In signing a treaty, a trust relationship was created in which the Indian nation agreed to give the federal government some or all of its land as well as some of its sovereign powers and, in return, that relationship bound the United States to represent the best interests of the tribe, protect the safety and well-being of tribal members, and fulfill its treaty obligations and commitments.
  5. As early as 1823, the US Supreme Court began to reinterpret the meaning of Indian sovereignty and thereafter, produced two competing theories: tribes have inherent powrs of sovereignty that predate the "discovery" of America; and tribes only have the attributes of sovereignty that Congress gives them.  The Supreme Court cases known as the Marshall Trilogy gave Indians a kind of limited sovereignty that was to be governed by paternalistic trust and subject to the interpretation of the US government.
  6. The signing of treaties, the rendering of Supreme Court decisions, and the passing of policies and laws gradually eroded the sovereignty of American Indian nations by seeking to achieve at least two specific goals:
  7. When considering the definition of cultural genocide - when a government officially sanctions the removal and/or repression of a particular group that subsequently eliminates and/or weakens part of that group - the actions of the federal government can be considered genocidal in both intent and consequence.
  8. Indians are not relics of some idealized past, but rather, are members of contemporary American society.  As such, Native Americans must be seen as participants in an ongoing shared experience of all Americans who are looking for a common discourse about how to coexist.  If seen in this light, the Anglo guilt about genocide can become less of a contemporary reproach, and more a shared knowledge of lost opportunity - we had the chance to create a harmonious coexistence, but gave it up in favor of economic "progress."  Today, however, we have another opportunity to enter into a common dialog with Indian peoples as equals and as members of their own sovereign nations.