‘the Actions of Native Americans Themselves Contributed Nothing to the Advancement of Their Civil Rights in the Period 1865 to 1992’.

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‘The actions of Native Americans themselves contributed nothing to the advancement of their civil rights in the period 1865 to 1992’.

Native Americans admittedly, did surprisingly little in the initial two thirds of the period, despite the Plains Wars and other small-localized armed resistance during the nineteenth century; the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1889 effectively marked the end to such resistance. Whilst it can be argued that their efforts were at best lukewarm during the beginning, in the closing third of the period, the Native Americana ‘movement’, galvanized by the African American civil rights campaign and revolutionary zeitgeist became increasingly active and forceful in the advancement of their civil rights. Thus the statement is not true for the whole period, although, equally, they cannot be accredited full responsibility for their gains, with other factors playing significant roles; Government policy both hindered and assisted the cause, declaring Indians as ‘domestic dependent nations’, whose ‘relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian’, yet instrumental in granting them citizenship and legal rights. Federal policy, although essential to the final legitimacies, were often as a result of an external event or factor, and, it can be argued the policy did as much harm as help during the period. Similarly Supreme Court judgments had a fairly back and forth relationship with Native Americans, with early acts such as the ‘Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock’ in 1903 deeming them ‘An ignorant and dependent race’, whilst obtaining some successes for Native Americans, yet, unlike government policy, the advances made were somewhat minor. The turning point, apparent in both federal action and court cases, is key when accessing the plight for Native American civil rights; social and economic change is at the root of such a change in attitude, with the world wars proving influential to federal policy, and more importantly, the inspiration from the African American civil rights movement; that kick-started the ‘Red Power movement’ and generally created a more open-minded attitude. The eventual achievement and development of Indians civil rights in the period 1865 to 1992, was a culmination of government action, social impact, pressure groups and despite the absence of activity during the opening section of the period, the Native Americans themselves were vital, and cannot be accused of contributing nothing.

The Native Americans can be argued to have contributed nothing for a large part of the period, with minimal campaigning and cooperation; their lack of unity and resistance acting as a hindrance to civil rights. Unlike other ethnical groups, Native Americans were divided on tribal lines, with formation of the first inter-tribal group, ‘The Society of American Indians’ lacking mass support and a united vision, collapsing only nine years later in 1920. Combined with this divergence in opinion, Native Americans, given their tribal culture are sovereign, meaning tribes had little interest in gaining citizenship, or establishing ‘civil rights’ per se within the United States. Thus in order to pursue and maintain their own boundaries, laws and culture, they posed resistance to the governments attempts, although in most cases their opposition was flawed, such as The Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and resistance against the Dawes act in the early 20th century. The hostility and lack of unanimity amongst the Native Americans can certainly be viewed as obstructing their plight for civil rights, supportive of the argument that they contributed nothing. Yet, it must be taken into account that, throughout this inactivate period, the policy of federal government impeded the potential for Native Americans to campaign actively. The reservation policy, Dawes Allotment policy and the final policy of termination, proved detrimental to the Native Americans way of life and systematically eroded their tribal...
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