Northern Plains Reservation Aid (formerly American Indian Relief Council)
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History and Culture

Indian Removal Act — 1830

Signed into law in 1830 by President Andrew Jackson, the Indian Removal Act provided for the general resettlement of Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River to lands west (Indian Territory). Although the removal was supposed to be voluntary, removal became mandatory whenever the government thought necessary. Thousands of Indian people including nearly the entire Indian population that had existed in the southeastern United States were moved west. The first removal treaty to follow the passage of the Indian Removal Act was with the Choctaw Nation (1830). In 1838 the Cherokee Nation was removed to reservations in what has been called “The Trail of Tears.” It is estimated that almost 8,000 Cherokee people died on the forced march or shortly thereafter.

The removal period also saw the massive movement of missionaries stationing themselves west of the Mississippi. With the expectation of the Indians’ demise as a people, missionaries made a great effort to “civilize” and Christianize Native Americans. “Tribes and nations must perish and live only as men.” (Berkhofer 1967, p. 7)

The removal concept was further refined after the mid-century when it became evident that U.S. expansion planned to claim the West as well as the East. U.S. government officials concluded unspecified tracts of “Indian Territory” needed to be more sharply defined into reservations. Those opposing westward expansion were rounded up and forcibly confined to the reservations. This instigated the Great Plains wars of the 1860s-1880s.

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