Indian Land Policy, 1800–1990
Indians are central actors in American environmental history. They were the primeval users, shapers, and stewards of the land. The natural resources of the lands they occupy—soil, timber, grasses, water, and minerals—have played major roles in how the environment was developed in the past and is used today. Indians, together with the national parks and recreational resources created from their lands, figure preeminently in the evolving attitudes toward nature and the wild that underlie environmental policy. The policies of the United States government toward Indians evolved over time from land acquisition by conquest and treaties, to the removal of tribes to western reservations, to expulsion from the national parks, and finally toward Indian sovereignty, civil rights, and co-management of resources. This chapter surveys conflicts over Indian land and water rights, Indians and the creation of the parks, and the role of the United States government in establishing and administering policies toward Indians.
The lands of the eastern states, beginning with the thirteen original colonies, were ceded to English proprietors by Indians who could neither read nor fully appreciate the implications of the agreements they signed. In many cases, tribal members did not completely comprehend the size of the ceded lands, or that—in many cases—they were giving up longestablished hunting and fishing rights. In other cases, whites negotiated with chiefs from whom they could receive the most land, and used fraud and bribery to accomplish their desired ends. The proclamation line of 1763, established at the end of the Seven Years' War between the French and British, temporarily protected Indians from further settlement and reserved lands west of the Appalachians as hunting grounds. The British Crown retained the exclusive right to negotiate cessions from Indians, and