BIA map of Indian reservations in the continental United States.
In the United States an Indian reservation is land which is managed by a Native American tribe under the United States Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Because the land is federal territory and Native Americans have limited national sovereignty, there are often legal casinos on reservations. In Canada an Indian reserve is a similar institution, although its history is markedly different from that of the reservation in the U.S.
There are about 300 Indian reservations in the United States, meaning not all of the country's 500-plus recognized tribes have a reservation--indeed, some tribes have more than one reservation, others have none. In addition, because of past land sales and allotments, discussed below, some reservations are severely fragmented. Each piece of tribal, trust, and privately held land is a separate enclave. This random mixing of private and public real estate can create significant administrative difficulties.
There are 12 Indian reservations that are larger than the state of Rhode Island (776,960 acres; 3,144 km˛) and nine reservations larger than Delaware (1,316,480 acres; 5,327 km˛). Reservations are unevenly distributed throughout the country with none in some states.
The government unit with jurisdiction over Indian reservations is the tribal council, rather than federal, state or county governments. Indian reservations often have their own systems of government, which may or may not replicate the forms of government found outside the reservation. That said, some Indian reservations were laid out by the federal government, others were outlined by the states.
At the present time, a slight majority of Native Americans and Native Alaskans live somewhere other than the reservations, often in big western cities like Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California.
The U.S. policy of creating reservations for Native Americans was established during the Presidential administration of Ulysses S. Grant in the late 1860s in response to the perceived "Indian problem" of growing conflicts between U.S. settlers and Native American tribes in the West. Relations between settlers and natives had grown increasingly worse as the settlers encroached on hunting grounds and natural resources in the West.
Grant pursued a stated "Peace Policy" as a possible solution to the conflict. The policy included a reorganization of the Indian Service, with the goal of relocating various tribes from their ancestral homes to parcels of lands established specifically for their inhabitation. The policy called for the replacement of government officials by religious men nominated by churches to oversee the Indian agencies on reservations in order to teach Christianity to the native tribes. The Quakers were especially active in this policy on reservations. The "civilization" policy was aimed at the eventually preparing the tribes for citizenship.
Reservation life is often a blend of the traditional and the contemporary. In 1877, this Lakota family living at South Dakota's Rose Bud Agency had both teepees and log cabins.
As the tribes were no longer allowed to hunt in their accustomed manner, they were to be taught the rudiments of agriculture in order to sustain themselves on their new lands. In many cases, the lands granted to tribes were not ideal for, and in some cases resistant to, cultivation, leaving many tribes who accepted the policy in a state that bordered on starvation. Reservation treaties sometimes included stipend agreements, in which the federal government would grant a certain amount of goods to a tribe annually. The implementation of the policy was erratic, however, and in many cases the stipend goods were not delivered.
The policy was controversial from the start. Reservations were generally established by executive order. In many cases, white settlers objected to the size of land parcels, which were subsequently reduced. A report submitted to the United States Congress in 1868 found widespread corruption among the federal Indian agencies and generally poor conditions among the relocated tribes.
Many tribes ignored the relocation orders at first and were forced onto their new limited land parcels. In many cases, the policy required the continuing support of the United States Army in the West to restrict the movements of various tribes. The pursuit of tribes in order to force them back onto reservations led to a number of Indian Wars. The most famous such conflict was the Sioux War on the northern Great Plains, between 1876 and 1881, which included the Battle of Little Bighorn. Other famous wars in this regard included the Nez Perce War.
By the late 1870s, the policy established by Grant was regarded as a failure, primarily because it had resulted in some of the bloodiest wars between Native Americans and the United States. By 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes began phasing out the policy, and by 1882 all religious organizations had relinquished their authority to the federal Indian agency.
Most Indian reservations, like the Laguna Indian reservation in New Mexico (pictured 1943), are in the western United States, often in arid regions unsuitable for agriculture.
In 1887 the United States Congress undertook a significant change in reservation policy by the passage of the Dawes Act, or General Allotment (Severalty) Act. The act ended the general policy of granting land parcels to tribes as-a-whole by granting small parcels of land to individual tribe members. In some cases, for example the Umatilla Indian Reservation, after the individual parcels were granted out of reservation land, the reservation area was reduced by giving the excess land to white settlers. The individual allotment policy continued until 1934, when it was terminated by the Indian Reorganization Act.
The Indian New Deal
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, was sometimes called the Indian New Deal. It laid out new rights for Native Americans, reversed some of the earlier privatization of their common holdings, and encouraged self-government and land management by tribes. The act slowed the assignment of tribal lands to individual members, and reduced the assignment of 'extra' holdings to nonmembers.
For the following twenty years, the U.S. government invested in infrastructure, health care, and education on the reservations, and over two million acres (8,000 km˛) of land were returned to various tribes. The Indian Reorganization Act also provided for termination and relocation of certain tribes. This eventually resulted in the legal dismantling of 61 tribal nations.
Life and culture
Many Native Americans who live on reservations deal with the federal government through two agencies: the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.
Some Indian reservations offer a quality of life that's among the poorest to be found in the United States. Shannon County, South Dakota, home of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is routinely described as one of the poorest counties in the nation.
In 1979 the Seminole tribe in Florida opened a high-stakes bingo operation on its reservation in Florida. The state attempted to close the operation down but was stopped in the courts. In the 1980s the case of California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians established the right of reservations to operate other forms of gambling operations. In 1988, the United States Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which recognized the right of Indian tribes to establish gambling and gaming facilities on their reservations as long as the states in which they are located have some form of legalized gambling.
- BIA full-size map of Indian Reservations in the continental United States (http://www.cr.nps.gov/nagpra/DOCUMENTS/RESERV.PDF)
- BIA index to map of Indian Reservations in the continental United States (http://www.cr.nps.gov/nagpra/DOCUMENTS/ResMapIndex.htm)
- FEMA: Federally recognized Indian reservations (http://www.fema.gov/tribal/indian_reserv.shtm)
- Gambling on the reservation (http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0423/p08s01-comv.html) April 2004 Christian Science Monitor article with links to other Monitor articles on the topic.
- Wheeler-Howard Act (Indian Reorganization Act) 1934 (http://www.infca.org/tribes/IRA.htm)
- Native American Technical Corrections Act of 2003 (http://www.theorator.com/bills108/s523.html)