Page images
PDF
EPUB

.

them; agents have frequently proved faithless, and soldiers sent to protect the tribes have not only been cruel and vindictive, but often have introduced demoralization and carried disease among them. In fact (though it may seem paradoxical), it is yet true, that the white man's conduct and example, instead of aiding, has been the chief obstacle in the way of the civilization of the Indian.

In 1826, the then secretary of war said this Indian question was a most solemn one, and that it addressed itself “ to the American people, whose answer was full of responsibility.

Shall we go on quietly in a course which, judging from the past, threatens their extinction, while their past sufferings and future prospects so pathetically appeal to our compassion ?Twenty years later, the attorney-general of the United States said “there is nothing in the whole compass of our laws so hard to bring within any precise definition, or logical or scientific arrangement, as the relation in which the Indian stands toward the United States.” And the report of the peace commission, of the date of January 7, 1868, said: “Nobody pays any attention to Indian matters. This is a deplorable fact. Members of Congress understand the negro question, and talk learnedly on finance and political economy, but when the progress of settlement reaches the Indian's home, the only question considered is “how best to get his lands. When they are obtained, the Indian is lost sight of. While our missionary societies and benevolent associations have annually collected thousands of dollars from the charitable to send to Asia and Africa, for the purposes of civilization, scarcely a dollar is expended or a thought bestowed on the civilization of the Indians at our very doors."

Is it not time that a change should take place ? Is it not time that the government and people of the United States should resolve that justice and fair dealing shall be substituted

[ocr errors]

for that coldness, sordid selfishness, and cruelty which the native race has endured in all the years of the past? The Indian is not only entitled to justice at our hands, but we should extend to the race our earnest sympathy and aid. Our wards should have our best efforts for the amelioration of their condition. There are among them many men of worth, with natural gifts equal to those possessed by our own race; and, with a fair and equal chance in the battle of life, there should be no doubt as to the willingness of the Indian to accept our civilization, or of his capability to become a useful member of society. Let the red man bave what he never has had, appropriate protection and support, and fair opportunity. Let him be emancipated from every evil and adverse influence, and lifted up and pressed forward in the new life. Let us deal with him as we would be dealt by. In short, let us admit that he is a Man, and treat him as such, not spasmodically, but persistently, constantly, and in every relation of life. - To begin, let him have a fixed and settled home. This is imperative. Let him be distressed no more with the fear and apprehension that this home will be taken from him. Many of the reservations on which the Indians now reside are not suitable as to location or the quality of the land embraced within them. They have been selected in exigencies arising at the time, and without any regard to their adaptability to the uses intended. However afflicting it may be, there is an absolute necessity that some of these reservations be recast. This is demanded by the true interests of both races. Some tribes have tracts so barren, that, no matter how desirous they may be to engage in cultivation, they must be debarred the privilege; others are so located as to expose them at all times to trespass from the whites, and, thus disturbed, they must fail in their efforts. There are in the Western States and Territories nearly an hundred different reservations, in all aggregating about 180,000,000 acres of land. The report of the Indian office, for 1878, estimates that, of this land, about 18,000,000 of acres are tillable. It is believed this estimate of tillable land is too large. There is, however, too much territory'in a number of the reservations, and it is clear that there are too many of them. In recasting and reducing the number, by consolidation or otherwise, the greatest care should be taken, since the change and re-location of those whose true interests require it, should be final. In discussing this phase of the Indian question, in the North American Review, in 1873, Francis A. Walker, a former commissioner of Indian affairs, said :

“It is manifest, therefore, that the next five or ten years must witness a general recasting of the scheme of Indian reservations. This is not to be accomplished by confiscating the Indian title, but by exchange, by concession, by consolidation. Let Congress provide the necessary authority, under proper limitations for the executive departments, and the adjustment desired can be reached casily and amicably.” Six years have passed since tbis suggestion was made, but Congress has taken no step looking to the consummation of the work. It should be done at once, and with the utmost care. No tribe should have assigned to it, for a permanent home, a reservation that does not contain sufficient tillable land. On this point there should be absolute certainty, and the title to the tract assigned should be as perfect and good as that by which the government conveys its quarter sections to actual settlers. This done, and a great point will be gained. The mind of the Indian will, for the first time, be at rest on a question that has disturbed his ancestor as well as himself. To each head of a family there should, within the reservation, be assigned a homestead. The number of acres in it should be sufficiently large, but not excessive. He should be taught that he is the proprietor, with the right to exercise jurisdiction over his farm, and be secured in the enjoyment of all he produces upon it. The title to the land should remain in the tribe, since the Indians are generally not prepared for fee-simple titles. In years to come, these may be granted.

When the tribe is permanently located on the reservation, and the integrity of the same is placed beyond question, and when those disposed to intrude upon the possessions of the red man understand, that if done, it is at their peril, and that certain and swift punishment will follow, the work of the agent may be successfully prosecuted. This should be confided to none but men of the highest character for integrity, of good executive ability, and industrious habits. Such men will not have, among their subordinates, any who are unworthy. At times, indeed too often, the Indians have suffered much for want of agents with proper qualifications. While firm in the discharge of their duties, both the agent and his employes, when engaged in the instruction and direction of the Indian in his work and labor, will do well to offer to the savage the reason why this thing be done and the other omitted. He is the pupil; they the instructors. In this most important matter a military agent will always fail. His education, training, and discipline are not in the right direction to qualify him to discharge the duties of an Indian agent. From the highest to the lowest in rank, it is the duty of the subordinate to obey orders. The reason why a particular command is given is not explained. To the soldier this is not necessary or proper; but the instruction of the savage is quite a different thing, and the Indian agent who, on all proper occasions, devotes a few minutes in unfolding to the mind of the Indian why he should do as instructed, will find it time well spent. Firmness and kindness should go hand in hand. This will not interfere with reformatory discipline. In all cases where Indians can be utilized about the labor of the agency it should be done, and no white employes, except such as can not be dispensed with, should be in the service. The young men of the tribe will gladly take hold of and discharge the duties assigned them, and they will be trustworthy and faithful. Competent men, to act as Indian agents, are to be found in many tribes, and it would be well to give some of these positions as such.

The Indian women must cease to do the outdoor work, and confine themselves to domestic duties and the cares of the house and the family. The labor in the garden and the field must be done by the men and boys. To the nomad, this change will be a great innovation; but the step being taken by one, others will follow, and, with proper prompting and encouragement, accessions will continually be made to the ranks of labor. The methods that succeed in one case may, for the time, seem to fail in another. The reason will be found in the surrounding circumstances. Every phase of the problem must be studied by the agent in charge, and, if faithful, diligent, and patient, he will soon surmount all difficulties. That the Indians who are well advanced in years will desire to adhere to their savage customs may be expected. Many of these will yield, and, when the change comes, such will embrace the pursuits of civilized life with earnestness, and succeed admirably. As the habit of roaming must cease, and all Indians have their fixed homes, the young of both sexes will always be within reach, and then an inviting and interesting field will be open, not only for the work of the agent, but for the Christian missionary. With reference to missionary work among the Indians, it may be stated that the various religious denominations in the United States, dur

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »