restricted access 80. Indian Commissioner Parker on the Treaty System: Extract from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, December 23, 1869
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133 Indian territory competent to the prompt punishment of crime, whether committed by white man, Indian, or negro. The agent upon the reservation in which the offense is committed, the agent of the next nearest reservation, and the nearest post commander might constitute a court, all the agents being clothed with the necessary powers. The Indian treaties we have examined provide, in effect, that proof of any offense committed by a white man against an Indian shall be made before the agent, who shall transmit the same to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs , who shall proceed to cause the offender to be arrested and tried by the laws of the United States. If the Indian commits an offense , he shall be given up to be tried by the laws of the United States. It is a long process to get a white man tried; a shorter one for the Indian, in proportion to the difference in distance between the agency and the nearest white settlement and that to Washington City; and in the trials the Indian never escapes punishment; the white man rarely fails to be acquitted. . . . [Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners , 1869, pp. 5–11.] 80. Indian Commissioner Parker on the Treaty System Extract from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs December 23, 1869 The treaty system of dealing with the Indians had long been under attack because of the inequality of the two contracting parties. After the Civil War such criticisms came to a head and contributed to the abolition of treaty making in 1871. One strong statement against negotiating treaties with the Indians was made by Commissioner Ely S. Parker, who was himself a Seneca Indian, in his annual report of 1869. . . . . Arrangements now, as heretofore, will doubtless be required with tribes desiring to be settled upon reservations for the relinquishment of their rights to the lands claimed by them and for assistance in sustaining themselves in a new position, but I am of the opinion that they should not be of a treaty nature. It has become a matter of serious import whether the treaty system in use ought longer to be continued. In my judgment it should not. A treaty involves the idea of a compact between two or more sovereign powers, each possessing sufficient authority and force to compel a compliance with the obligations incurred. The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character. They are held to be the wards of the government, and the only title the law concedes to them to the lands they occupy or claim is a mere possessory one. But, because treaties have been made with them, generally for the extinguishment of their supposed absolute title to land inhabited by them, or over which they roam, they have become falsely impressed with the notion of national independence. It is time that this idea should be dispelled, and the government cease the cruel farce of thus dealing with its helpless and ignorant wards. Many good men, looking at this matter only from a Christian point of view, will perhaps say that the poor Indian has been greatly wronged and ill treated; that this whole country was once his, of which he has been despoiled, and that he has been driven from place to place until he has hardly left to him a spot where to lay his head. This indeed may be philanthropic and humane, but the stern letter of the law admits of no such conclusion, and great injury has been done by the government in deluding this people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time recognized only as its dependents and wards. As civilization advances and their possessions of land are required for settlement, such legislation should be granted to them as a wise, liberal, and just government ought to extend to subjects holding their dependent relation. In regard to treaties now in force, justice and humanity require that they be 134 promptly and faithfully executed, so that the Indians may not have cause of complaint, or reason to violate their obligations by acts of violence and robbery. While it may not be expedient to negotiate treaties with any of the tribes hereafter, it is no doubt...