Native American Rights

How native Americans rights have changed through the years since the settlers arrived.

When the Europeans first arrived in America in 1492, the lives of the Native Americans began changing.  The settlers brought diseases such as chicken pox and measles to which the Native Americans had no immunity, so many of them begin to die.  While historians are unsure exactly how many Native Americans died due to these diseases (although some estimate up to 80% of the population), it is known that epidemics followed European explorations and in some cases, entire villages were wiped out by disease.

While settlers did bring many new things to America (such as horses and improved farming equipment), they also eventually began taking away the lands of the Native Americans and resulted in the initial infringement upon Native American rights.  This caused for strained relations and many battles between the settlers and the Native American tribes. 

As more and more settlers arrived in America, the Native Americans tribes were pushed further and further West, with little regard for their Native American rights.  In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed.  This allowed the president, Andrew Jackson, to conduct treaties that exchanged land east of the Mississippi River for land west of the Mississippi River.  This treaty did not take into consideration the Native American rights and relocated over 100,000 Native Americans.  While the treaty was supposed to be voluntary, it was often brutally enforced.  The Cherokees, under the Treaty of New Echota, were forced to move westward.  This culminated in what is known as the Trail of Tears, in which in the deaths of approximately 4,000 Cherokees.  Tribes were often located to reservations where many of the Native American ways of life were altered.

Eventually, the government began to recognize Native American rights and policies towards them began to change.  In 1924, the United States granted citizenship to the Native Americans through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.  This act was brought about for two reasons – the government still hoped  to see Native Americans become more mainstream with the population, but also to reward them for their service to the country in World War I.

Today, the government recognizes 563 separate Native American tribes, which comprise almost 3 million in population.  To make sure their Native American rights aren’t violated, the Native American Rights Fund was established in 1970.  This nonprofit law firm practices in five essential areas: 

  • preserving the existence of the tribes
  • protecting the tribe’s natural resources so they can continue to hunt and fish
  • promoting Native American rights
  • making sure the government is accountable to Native Americans
  • not only developing Indian laws, but also educating their people about these laws.

The Native American Rights Fund also helps in getting official tribe recognition, upholding their religious freedoms, making sure that Native American remains and burial items are returned from museum collections, and protecting the rights of Native Americans to vote.

The Native American Rights Fund is governed by a board of directors that is made up of representatives from thirteen Native American tribes throughout the county.  Fifteen attorneys volunteer to take and try the cases brought to them.

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