The Reservation System
The most obvious consequence of the treaties negotiated with Native Americans was the creation of reservations.
A careful reading of the treaties in this collection indicates that reservations were areas that Native Americans reserved for themselves out of the land they ceded to the United States government.
This collection provides a rare opportunity to understand what life has been like on reservations of the Pacific Northwest since their establishment in the second half of the 19th century.
The Subject Index heading, Indian reservations, provides access to over 500 items, including legislation, scholarly articles, and reports by Indian agents and other reservation staff. A search on reservation yields similar items as well as photographs.
- What did reservations look like? What kinds of buildings were there?
- What sorts of activities did Indians engage in on reservations? Did they continue any traditional activities? What new activities did they take on?
- Did Native Americans go off reservations? If so, why?
- What do you think it would have been like to live on a reservation and why?
The article, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest," compares the U.S. reservation system to the policy implemented in British Columbia. Indian Agents' reports describe the day-to-day workings of reservations. Agent Charles Medary reported in 1876 from the Flathead agency:
"Although a majority still derive their sustenance from hunting, fishing, root-gathering, &c., it is gratifying to observe marked progress has been made during the past year in the way of civilization, and that at least a few more have been induced to relinquish a roving life to try the cultivation of the soil. Some eight new houses have been built by the Indians, toward the construction of which 16,000 feet of lumber, together with other needed materials, were furnished by the agency. . . The fund appropriated for 'beneficial objects,' amounting to but $750 per quarter, is barely sufficient to supply the entirely helpless and needy with food and clothing . . "
(Page 88, "Report of Flathead agency")
- Do agents' reports corroborate the assessment of the reservation system in "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest?"
- What problems do agents cite?
- What were the main purposes for creating reservations?
- What were the pros and cons of the reservation system?
A less positive view of the reservation system was reported in the San Francisco Daily Bulletin in 1862. The newspaper printed a speech by Qui-tal-i-can, a Yakima, objecting to annuities distributed by the government at the Yakima agency:
"The white men propose to bring all Indians to one land. Not good. Like driving horses into a corral. Suppose Indians went to Boston and told all the Bostons to go to one place. Would it be well? I am a poor man, but I will not say to the Agent, I am a dog. The Great Spirit will take care of us. He will always cause the grass to grow and the water to run. I am somewhat ashamed to be here today. My land is not to be sold for a few blankets and a few yards of cloth... ."
- Why didn't Native Americans such as Qui-tal-i-can like annuities?
- Why did some agents object to the use of annuities?
- How were reservations managed? Who created and enforced laws and policies?
- What were agents' goals and expectations of the Native Americans on their reservations?
- Why might Native Americans and agents feel differently about the "progress" made on reservations?
- What legislation was created that affected reservation life and policy? What were the effects of such legislation?
- How did reservations change over time?