History of Indigenous Peoples of the United States

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The native people who lived on the North American continent at the time of the first contact with European exploreres and settlers were called Indians by the Europeans. They lived in famililies which often grouped themselves together in larger bodies, often given the name of tribes by the newcomers. For the purpose of studying the native population, they can be divided into classifications of different-sized groups -- Indians of North America, Indians of the United States, Canada First Nations, Indians of a particular state or province, or by individual tribes. All of these levels will be represented in this wiki. This article will begin to present the history and records of groups in the United States.

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The first contact of European settlers with the native population created a mutual and natural curiosity. Establishing relationships required trust and understanding. The mind-set of the European settlers became one of converting the natives to Christianity and the European way of life.

Before the establishment of the federal government, Indian affairs was handled by each colony or at the local level. The administration of Indian affairs was placed under the jurisdiction of the War Department early in the history of the United States. It was later transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs as part of the Department of the Interior.

There was a general recognition that the Native Americans had “title” (pre-emption rights or rights of first occupation) to the land. Efforts were made to “extinguish” those property rights by purchase and by treaty. Treaties included stipulations for the payment of benefits in exchange for the surrender of the property rights. Provision was sometimes made to reserve areas for hunting, fishing and burial  Later treaties also provided for the removal of the Native Americans from their home lands to unsettled areas and/or reservations.

From 1795 to 1822, the official policy was to trade with the Indians through “factories,” or government owned trading houses. More than 20 such factories were established and records were kept by them.

Eventually, most of the American Indians, by policy of the federal government (and in a few instances, state governments), were confined to reservations.

With the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act) in 1934, American Indian Tribes set up their own tribal governments. Many of these tribal governments began recording vital records, tribal enrollment records and other records of value to genealogists.

The Records[edit | edit source]

Each government policy caused records to be created. The desire to "Christianize" the Indians led to records of the efforts of the respective denominations. Extinguishing property rights led to Indian deeds and to treaties in which the Indians gave up their property rights. Treaties often led to annuity rolls, or record of payments to the Native Americans.

The movement of groups of American Indians from one locality to another led to removal records or emigration records.

The management of reservations by agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs produced a variety of records – Indian census rolls, allotment (land) records, school records, health records, vital records and a number of other documents.

Most of the records discussed in this article are those created by the federal government. American Indians were also included in other non-agency records such as the general population schedules of the Census Bureau, local deed books, military records, and many others.

The Tribes of the United States[edit | edit source]

Many "tribes" have existed in what is now the United States. Some have existed and become extinct. Some are federally recognized. Some are state-recognized. And some exist without official recognition. It is important to determine the tribal affiliation of supposed ancestors, since most of the records are associated with the tribe. If the tribal connection of an ancestor is unknown, sometimes it can be determined by determining the residence of the ancestor and studying the history of that locality to determine what tribe resided in that locality. There are several lists of tribes available for various localities -- country, state, or local.

Native Tribes of the United States (includes federally and state recognized) -- http://www.dickshovel.com/trbindex.html

Indian Tribes of the United States -- http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/

External Links:

American Indian Policies.

Deloria, Vine, ed. American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Smith, Jane F. And Robert M Kvasnicka, eds. Indian-White Relations: A Persistent Paradox. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1976.