restricted access 56. Indian Commissioner Lea on Reservation Policy. November 27, 1850
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56. Indian Commissioner Lea on Reservation Policy Extract from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs November 27, 1850 A reservation policy gradually evolved as the federal government sought to concentrate Indian tribes into restricted areas, where they could be prevented from depredation and where they could be more easily induced to accept an agricultural economy. Commissioner Luke Lea in 1850 recommended such a course for the Sioux and Chippewas and neighboring tribes. . . . . Among the less remote tribes with which we have fixed and defined relations, and which, to a greater or less extent, have felt the controlling and meliorating effects of the policy and measures of the government for preserving peace among them and improving their condition, an unusual degree of order and quietude has prevailed. It is gratifying to know that amongst this class, comprising a large portion of the red race within our widely extended borders, there probably has never, during the same period of time, been so few occurrences of a painful nature. All have been peaceful towards our citizens; while, with the exception of the Sioux and Chippewas, they have preserved a state of peace and harmony among themselves . These two tribes are hereditary enemies , and scarcely a year passes without scenes of bloody strife between them. From their remoteness and scattered condition, it is difficult to exercise any effective restraint over them while their proximity to each other affords them frequent opportunities for indulging their vengeful and vindictive feelings . Each tribe seems to be constantly on the watch for occasions to attack weaker parties of the other, when an indiscriminate massacre of men, women, and children, is the lamentable result. During the last spring mutual aggressions, of an aggravated character, threatened to involve these tribes in a general war; but the acting superintendent, Governor Ramsey, aided and assisted by the commanding officer at Fort Snelling, promptly interposed, and by timely and judicious efforts prevented such a catastrophe. Such occurrences are not only revolting to humanity, but they foster that insatiable passion for war, which, in combination with love of the chase, is the prominent characteristic feature of our wilder tribes, and presents a formidable obstacle in the way of their civilization and improvement. We know not yet to what extent these important objects may be accomplished; but the present and improving condition of some of our semicivilized tribes affords ample encouragement for further and more extended effort. Experience , however, has conclusively shown that there is but one course of policy by which the great work of regenerating the Indian race may be effected. In the application of this policy to our wilder tribes, it is indispensably necessary that they be placed in positions where they can be controlled, and finally compelled by stern necessity to resort to agricultural labor or starve. Considering, as the untutored Indian does, that labor is a degradation, and there is nothing worthy of his ambition but prowess in war, success in the chase, and eloquence in council, it is only under such circumstances that his haughty pride can be subdued, and his wild energies trained to the more ennobling pursuits of civilized life. There should be assigned to each tribe, for a permanent home, a country adapted to agriculture , of limited extent and well-defined boundaries; within which all, with occasional exceptions, should be compelled constantly to remain until such time as their general improvement and good conduct may supersede the necessity of such restrictions. In the mean time the government should cause them to be supplied with stock, agricultural implements, and useful materials for clothing ; encourage and assist them in the erection of comfortable dwellings, and secure to them the means and facilities of education , intellectual, moral, and religious. The application of their own funds to such purposes would be far better for them than the present system of paying their annuities in money, which does substantial good to but few, while the great majority it only furnishes 81 82 the means and incentive to vicious and depraving indulgence, terminating in destitution and misery, and too frequently in premature death. The time is at hand for the practical application of the foregoing views to the Sioux and Chippewas, as well as to some of the more northern tribes on the borders of Missouri and Iowa. . . . Since the treaties of 1837 and 1842, with the Chippewas, a considerable portion of those Indians have continued, by sufferance, to reside on the ceded lands east...


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