Applicable Minnesota Department of Education and State Board of Education Standards:

Comprehensive Graduation Goals

Minnesota graduates can function effectively as:

  • Purposeful thinkers,
  • Effective communicators,
  • Self-directed learners,
  • Productive group participants, and
  • Responsible citizens.

Graduation standards

Basic requirements

Basic competency in the skills of:

  • Reading
  • Writing

Basic knowledge of fundamental concepts from:

  • Government
  • Physical health and safety
  • Geography

Required Profile of Learning

To achieve a diploma a student must show an appropriate level of achievement in each of the following elements:

Element One:
Understand what the read, hear and see. Comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating information received through reading, listening, and viewing;
Element Two:
Write and speak effectively. Writing and speaking in English clearly for academic, technical, and personal purposes with a variety of audiences;
Element Five:
Gather and use information. Applying methods of inquiry needed to conduct research, draw conclusions, and communicate and apply findings;
Element Seven:
Understand interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles of interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations;
Element Eight:
Make informed decisions. Applying informed decision-making processes to promote personal growth and the well-being of society;

Learner Outcome

Students will be able to:

  • Assess the impact of ever-changing U.S. policies on American Indians.


This outcome includes:

  • Understanding that U.S. policies are numerous and affect all aspects of life.
  • Understanding that lives are disrupted as a result of these policies.


All students must have knowledge of the impact of U.S. policies on American Indians in order to understand American history and contemporary American Indian tribal issues. Students will be able to function as responsible citizens if they understand that some tribal issues affect all citizens.

Cultural Content/American Indian World View

American Indians have been the subject of more federal legislation than any other group in the United States. Some of the acts, treaties and agreements were good faith attempts by Congress to negotiate with American Indians honorably. Other attempts were disguised measures designed to take Indian lands and destroy their governments.

American Indians are deeply affected by federal Indian policies of the past and present. These policies have been inconsistent and have changed direction many times depending on the political climate.

Issues which are current in American Indian communities today are all directly or indirectly related to federal Indian policies. These issues include tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, native language rights, repatriation of human remains and sacred religious objects, religious freedom, education rights of American Indian children, and the right of American Indians to determine their own future. Current trends in federal Indian policy reflect these important concerns.

Teacher Background Information

When the United States became established as a new nation in the late 1700´s, it was small and weak compared to the American Indian nations throughout the rest of the land. This new nation was cautious in interacting with American Indian tribes. As the population grew, the agenda of United States soon became one of taking Indian land and resources as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Manifest Destiny

The doctrine of Manifest Destiny set policy for federal legislation for the next 200 years. This policy, based on the European system of monarchy, promoted the belief that it was the divine right of the United States to colonize this country.

Following the precedent set by European policy, United States Indian policy initially consisted of making formal treaty agreements with American Indian tribes. These treaties recognized Indian tribes as sovereign nations. They were treated as foreign nations within and outside the borders of the United States. The earliest treaties were agreements about trade, friendship or establishing boundaries between lands. Later, treaty agreements became a way for the federal government to acquire vast amounts of Indian land. During the 19th century, the United States made hundreds of treaties with American Indian tribes. In this way, the country expanded its borders.

Anishinabe and Dakota Lands

In Minnesota, the land that was acquired by the United States was transferred through treaties with American Indian nations. These nations included the Dakota (Sioux) and Anishinabe (Chippewa, Ojibwe). At an earlier time, France claimed this territory as their own. During the French and Indian War, these tribes either remained neutral or fought on the side of the French against the British. After the war the victorious British claimed this territory as part of Great Britain. If fell into American jurisdiction after the War of 1812.

The treaties signed by the Dakota and Anishinabe with agents of the U.S. government were not all land cession treaties. However, it was through treaty agreements that the federal government acquired most of the land base in Minnesota. The Indian nations retained small portions of these original homelands. These lands are known today as Indian reservations and communities. To understand why Indian nations agreed to give up large portions of their land it is important to consider the circumstances under which the leaders signed the treaties. The belief system of American Indians does not include the concept of land ownership. Further the American Indians who signed treaties usually did not read, write or speak English. They had to depend on interpreters who may have been in collusion with federal agents. In some circumstances, government agents, in collusion with fur traders, claimed that American Indians owed a great debt to the traders which could only be paid off by selling a part of their lands. In other cases, American Indian leaders were actually jailed or intimidated in other ways to get them to sign the treaties. In still other cases, American Indian leaders believed if they did not sign the treaties, their land would be taken from them by force. Signing was done with thumb print or an X.

Federal Policies as Acts of Assimilation

Indian Removal Act of 1880

When land could not be easily acquired through treaties, the federal government initiated a policy of removing American Indians from their homelands by force. This policy, called the Indian Removal Act of 1830, continued until the close of the 19th century. All Indian nations had their version of the Trail of Tears and were affected by this policy. Although genocide of American Indians was not a written part of federal Indian policy, it was carried out repeatedly throughout the 19th century.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

After the Federal Government acquired most of the land, and confined Indian nations to small portions of their original homelands or removing them to remote lands, federal policy took a new direction. The intention was that American Indian tribes would no longer be free to function as nations and run their own affairs. American Indians were to be assimilated and vanish into the mainstream of American life. The War Department of the federal bureaucracy had originally been in charge of Indian affairs. Their duties were shifted to the Interior Department and Indian nations came under the direct control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau was to carry out the provisions of the treaties and through these treaty obligations a "trust responsibility" was developed.

Instead of protecting Indian rights, the Bureau often helped make possible the further confiscation of Indian lands and resources. Indian government agents assigned to reservations during this time were notorious for corrupt practices. Some intercepted food supplies destined for American Indian families and sold these good on the open market to profit themselves.

Trust Relationship

Under U.S. law, Indian nations and tribes are said to be permanent "wards" or beneficiaries of a guardianship or trusteeship established and administered by the U.S. Government. Worcester v. Georgia 81 U.S. [6 Pet.) 515,548-549 (1882). Today this trust relationship is most commonly known as the "Indian trust relationship" or the "Indian trust responsibility".

The rules governing the Indian trust relationship are unilaterally imposed on Indians by the U.S. Government. Congress makes all the laws governing its trust powers and trust duties, and Congress is legally accountable only to itself for its actions as trustee. However, in some instances, tribes can sue the United States for breach of the trust responsibility. This concept, known as plenary power, is further confirmed and deemed acceptable by the Supreme Court. To meet the demand of settlers for Indian land, the United States increasingly relied on the guardianship or trusteeship rationale as justification for the seizure of Indian lands. One graphic example is the 1887 General Allotment Act which was designed by the U.S. Congress to divest Indian nations of their land titles and to divide up all Indian lands into individual owned homesteads. --Adapted from the Indian Law Resource Center.

Dawes Act

The Dawes Act or General Allotment Act of 1887, became a key part of the federal assimilation policy. This Act divided up reservation lands which had been held in common by the tribes into sections of 40, 80, and 160 acres. These allotments were then assigned to individuals or family groups. American Indians were supposed to farm these lands in the style of their non-Indian neighbors. The "excess" land would then be sold to non-Indian settlers and lumber interests. The Dawes Act resulted in the loss of millions of acres of Indian land.

All of Minnesota´s reservations were affected by the Dawes Act with the exception of the Red Lake Reservation. Prior to 1863 the seven clans who comprised the Red Lake Chippewas owned and controlled more than 13 million acres of land in Northwestern Minnesota. Land holding extended into North Dakota on the west and Canada on the north. Leaders at Red Lake fought allotment of their lands and they succeeded in retaining tribal lands in common ownership. Red Lake is called a closed reservation because the United States never held title to the land and the land was never allotted. Elsewhere in Minnesota, the Dawes Act and a state law called the Nelson Act of 1889, paved the way for private interests to grab the valuable timber lands located on the remaining six Anishinabe reservations.

The General Allotment Act was one of many federal laws and agreements which allotted (divided) Indian lands among tribal members. The allotment acts were intended to dissolve the Indian nations and assimilate Indians into American society by breaking up the tribal land base. Under these acts, tribally held lands were usually divided into 80 or 160 acre allotments for each member of the tribe living at that time. These allotted lands were to be held in trust for the Indian allottees by the U.S. government for a period of twenty-five years. During the trust period, the Indian allottee could not sell, lease, mortgage or give the land without the approval of agency officials. At the end of the trust period or when the Secretary of Interior determined that Indian allottees were "competent" to manage their own affairs, the restrictions on the land were to be removed and the land would be owned by the Indians. The trust period could be (and has been) extended by federal administrators and Congress.

Coerced Assimilation

As the federal policies were carried out, American Indians were no longer free to openly practice a traditional way of life. Indian agents in collusion with missionaries broke up ceremonies and confiscated and destroyed sacred religious objects. Churches were established on Indian reservations and some American Indians were coerced into converting to Christianity. Others converted voluntarily. Federal assimilation policy also directed American Indians to change farming methods. This meant raising domesticated animals and planting foreign crops such as wheat, oats, and barley. Therefore many American Indians had little choice but to accept a new e economy. With a greatly reduced land base, it became increasingly difficult to support families by traditional hunting, fishing and plant gathering practices. These attempts to effect assimilation result in major changes to lifestyle, roles and culture of American Indians.

Boarding Schools

During the boarding school era in Minnesota, some American Indian children were taken from their parents and grandparents, either by force or persuasion, and placed in government or mission run boarding schools. The children were taught the Christian religion and Euro-American style education. The schools operated in strict military fashion and the children were severely disciplined for infractions of the rules. They were not allowed to speak their own language or practice traditional customs. Children were parented by an institution rather than the extended family. Individual youngsters had varying kinds of experiences at the boarding school. Families sometimes sacrificed so that their children could attend. The negative/positive impact on families and parenting extends to the present time.

The Major Crimes Act

The Major Crimes Act was passed by Congress in 1885 as a "rider" to an Indian appropriations bill. Before that time, Indian nations retained exclusive power to make criminal laws and punish Indians who committed crimes against other Indians in Indian country. The Supreme Court had recognized this power of Indian governments in Ex Pane Crow Dog.

Congress, however, passed the Major Crimes Act in order to limit the poser of Indian nations to punish Indians who violated tribal law. Despite this clear violation of Indian sovereign rights, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Act.

This Act gave the U.S. courts jurisdiction over seven crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, when those crimes were committed by an American Indian against another American Indian within Indian country. The Act has been changed so that today it covers fourteen crimes. The effect of the Act has been to punish crimes committed by American Indians in accordance with American ideas of law and justice rather than in accordance with Indian law and custom. Although some courts have interpreted this Act as taking away Indian jurisdiction over the listed crimes, it is possible that both and Indian nation and the U.S. government have jurisdiction.

American Indian Citizenship

The federal assimilation policy was still in effect in 1924 when Congress declared that all American Indians within the borders of the United States would be United States citizens. The need to acknowledge the contributions of American Indians in World War I may have prompted this action. Citizenship, however, did not guarantee American Indians the rights other citizens enjoyed under provisions of the Constitution. Special acts of Congress had to be legislated and are still being legislated to insure American Indian citizens equal rights.

Consequences of Assimilation

By the early years of the 20th century, the consequences of federal assimilation policies were disastrous to American Indians. The Indian nations had lost most of their land base. The American Indian population was decimated and diseases such as smallpox ravaged American Indian communities. American Indian families were living in conditions of severe poverty. Federal policy was slow to respond. It was not until the entire country became paralyzed by the Great Depression of the 1930´s than Indian policy began to change. A 1928 government report, known as the Meriam Report, documented the deplorable conditions that existed on Indian reservations. When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1934, he appointed a long time activist on behalf of American Indians, John Collier, to be Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With need for change documented in the Meriam Report, Collier helped to push the Indian Reorganization Act through Congress. This Act provided for a reorganization of tribal governments. The tribal governments began to act as corporate entities and engage in economic enterprises for the benefit of the tribe as a whole. The Act also provided for conservation and development of Indian lands and a means for tribes to strengthen their economies. Most of the Minnesota reservations were reorganized under provisions of this Act.

By the early 1950´s, federal Indian policy shifted again. In 1953, Congress authorized the Bureau of Indian Affairs to administer what became known as the Relocation Program Public Law 280. The goal of this program was to relocate American Indian families from reservation communities to urban areas where they were more likely to find employment. American Indian families who were willing to move were entitled to certain benefits. These benefits included travel and moving costs as well as a weekly allowance until the first paycheck arrived. The program, however, made little effort to protect American Indian families from exploitation by landlords. In addition, the government assumed no responsibility for the discrimination American Indians experienced in the cities. Prejudice and discrimination on the part of employers and others made city life unbearable at times.

Public Law 83-280

Passed in 1953, O.L. 83-280 ushered in the "termination" phase of federal Indian affairs. It gave Wisconsin, Oregon, California, Minnesota and Nebraska criminal and civil jurisdiction in Indian Country and provided a mechanism by which the states could assume permanent jurisdiction over Indian nations. The law applied to most of the Indian land within the boundaries of those five states except Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota and Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon.

The criterion for applying P.L. 83-280 was whether or not the United States judged than certain Indian nations were capable of handling their own affairs. The U.S. excluded those tribes which had law and order organizations that functioned in a reasonably satisfactory manner. Termination of the federal relationship with the Menominees, Klamaths and other Indian nations soon followed.

By giving jurisdiction to the states without the consent of affected Indian nations, the United States was blatantly ignoring American Indian sovereignty and in many cases, ignoring treaties. Unfortunately, the legality of P.L. 83-280 has never fully been questioned by U.S. courts.

Concurrent Resolution 108

Some tribes even lost federal protection and services during this era. Concurrent Resolution 108 was passed in August 1953, and became known as termination. The Klamath Indians of Oregon and the Menominee of Wisconsin lost reservation status through termination legislation. These lands became counties even though an adequate tax base did not exist for them to function as counties. These tribes eventually had their reservation status restored buy great damage had already been done. While in effect, the federal policy of termination served to further cut the ties of American Indians to their lands. Congress repudiated this policy by resorting reservation status to the Klamath and Menominee tribes.

American Indian Chicago Conference

In 1961, American Indians from over 90 tribes came together for the American Indian Chicago Conference. "A Declaration of Indian Purpose" was the result of this conference. This declaration called for a new direction in federal Indian policy. The conference attendees wanted to see more decisions made by tribal governments. They wanted tribal governments to run their own programs for their people. This was an open forum about policy issues of American Indians from across the country.

Indian Civil Rights Act

In the 1960´s Congress began to address the issues raised by the civil rights movement. In 1968, during the Johnson Administration, Congress enacted the American Indian Civil Rights Act that affected Indian tribes directly. The Community Action Program, as it became known, allowed tribes to run their own economic development projects. Tribal officials initiated many economic enterprises.

P.L. 93-638

By 1970, the Nixon administration announced that self-determination for Indians would be the official government policy. In 1975, Congress enacted the Indian Self- Determination and Education Assistance Act, P.L. 93-638.

Education Amendments Act

A Congressional Report "A National Tragedy–A National Challenge", submitted by the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968, called Indian education a "national disgrace". American Indians had the highest dropout rates from school and the lowest education level of any ethnic group in America. This report triggered Congressional action. Federal funds became available in the following decade for preschool, public school and alternative school programs for American Indian children. In 1972, Congress passed P.L. 92-318 Education Amendments Act known as Title IV, now Title V.

Effects of Termination Period

Although the termination period was relatively short-lived (lasting approximately 10 years) its effects have been long lasting. A termination policy such as that underlying P.L. 280 is clearly harmful to the exercise of the sovereign powers of Indian nations.

Indian Restoration Act

The Secretary of the Interior has the power under the Indian Restoration Act to return lands to any tribe that is organized under the provisions of that law. Most Indian tribes accepted the law and have constitutions approved in accordance with its provision. In the first few years after the passage of the I.R.A., lands were not only restored to tribes but surplus lands were made into Indian reservations, particularly in California, and people were encouraged to settle on them.

In Minnesota:

Tribe Acres Past Use and Present Need

Grand Portage, Nett Lake 90 Small tracts of former fire stations, roads, And White Earth Bands of sheds could be used by tribes to Chippewa, rural Minnesota consolidate with existing tribal lands. The Pieces are very small. Lac du Flambeau 50 Former school lands needed for tribal Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin development.

Religious Freedom Act

In 1978, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. While other citizens took religious freedom for granted, a special act of Congress became necessary to guarantee these rights to American Indians. Before passage of this act, American Indians were arrested and jailed for gathering eagle feathers and plant materials that formed an important part of traditional religious ceremonies. They were denied access to sacred sites on federal lands. American Indian prisoners were allowed to see priests, ministers, or rabbis but they were not allowed access to Indian healers and were not allowed to have pipe ceremonies or conduct sweat lodge ceremonies. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act addressed these issues and served to protect and preserve the inherent right of American Indians to believe, express and exercise their traditional religions. This right includes access to sacred sites, the use and possession of sacred objects and the freedom to worship through ceremonies and traditional rites without being interfered with."

The Religious Freedom Act was amended in 1994 to allow American Indians the right to use peyote for sacramental purposes.

Indian Child Welfare Act

In 1978 Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act that addressed the problem of American Indian children being placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes at an alarming rate. Instead of working with families to solve family problems, too often, American Indian children were simply taken away from parents. Many of these children were lost to tribal communities forever. Interested students and teachers should research the involvement of the Mormon Church on this issue. The Indian Child Welfare Act helped to stimulate better solutions to family problems in ways that allowed the children to remain Indian. It gave tribes the chance to have a say in what was happening to their children. Minnesota´s State Legislature strengthened this federal at by passing the Ethnic Heritage Protection Act in 1983. While the intent of these acts are laudable, there are still children being removed illegally from families.

Graves Protection and repatriation Law

Two Congressional acts have addressed a very old and painful issue to American Indians. Federal laws have protected the cemeteries of other citizens by making it a crime to vandalize the greaves of the dead. No such protection was ever provided to American Indian burial grounds. Grave robbers motivated by profit and archaeologists in the name of science have dug into American Indian graves and confiscated the remains to be displayed in museums. In 1989,m Congress authorized the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C . to return the 18,500 American Indian remains, which had been collected over many years and placed on shelves, to be returned to appropriate tribes for reburial upon request of the tribes. In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This Act protects Indian graves on federal and Indian lands. It prohibits the sale of Indian remains. It also calls for the repatriation of American Indian remains held in federal institutions or museums which receive federal funds. This law does not protect Indian graves found on private lands or American Indian remains held in private institutions, private collections or museums which operate without federal funds. In Minnesota, state law makes it a felony for anyone to disturb an American Indian grave.

The repatriation of sacred objects to American Indian tribes is just the beginning. In 1989, Congress made provisions to start a new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. This museum would be managed by American Indians. The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act states only that sacred objects held in federal government institutions be returned to appropriate Indian tribes. Sacred objects held by private collectors or private museums are not covered by this law.

Under the Act the Secretary of Interior can make grants to Indian tribes for the purpose of assisting such tribes in the repatriation of Native American cultural items. The Secretary is also authorized to make grants available to museums for the purpose of assisting the museums in conducting the inventories and identification required under the Act. The deadline for museums to submit these summaries to the tribes was November 16, 1993.

After the affected objects and remains are reviewed by the museums to create "Summaries", tribal governments and traditional religious leaders are to be "consulted" by the museums and universities. This "consultation" is not optional, as Congress indicated that the tribes and the museums must cooperate in ensuring NAGPRA works. "Consultation" may include travel to review the museum or university holdings, as well as discussion with officials at those institutions. "Consultation" therefore, will require tribes to use their own resources to meet with the museum officials and to carry out tribal obligations under the Act. Upon written request by a tribe or tribal member, supporting documentation for a given summary is to be made available by the museum.

By November 16, 1995, collectors now holding affected items are required to create detailed "inventories" to be submitted to the affected tribes. During this stage of the repatriation process tribes are again to be "consulted". If the cultural affiliation of ancestral remains can be determined, the museum or university must notify the affiliated tribe in writing within six months. Upon written request by a tribe or tribal individual, the documentation supporting a given inventory must be made available by the museum.


Major changes in American Indian policy appear to come in 50-year cycles according to George S. Grossman, author of The Sovereignty of American Indian Tribes: A Matter of Legal History. The policy respectful of Indian sovereignty following the independence of the United States was changed drastically by the removal policy of the 1830´s and the subsequent reservation system. In the 1880´s came allotments and the desire to turn American Indians into individual farmers. The folly of this was recognized and ended by the New Deal policies of the 1930´s. The termination policy of the 1950´s can be viewed as a temporary interruption, with the major New Deal reforms continuing intact to guide Indian policy today.

In the 1990´s American Indians are taking an active role and are commanding respect for their views. The concept of sovereignty is sure to remain a vital principle of policy with strong support from American Indian communities and individuals.


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  • "American Indian Religions. An Interdisciplinary Journal." Volume 1: Issue 1, Winter 1994.
  • Anderson, Dan. The Ojibwe of Minnesota. Vol. I, II, III. Cloquet, MN: Fond du Lac Education Division, 1993.
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  • Institute for the Development of American Indian Law. "Indians and the U.S. Government" "Indian Sovereignty" "Indian Treaties" Oklahoma City, OK. Phone: (405) 521-5188.
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  • Native American History Curriculum Unit. (Sr. High) Major legislation affecting Native Americans with an emphasis on the Anishinabe. Sass Lake, MN: Cass Lake Indian Education Program. Phone: (218) 335-2214.
  • Ojibwe History and Culture Curriculum Unit. (Jr. and Sr. High) U.S. policies, treaties, and current issues. Cass Lake, MN: Cass Lake Indian Education Program. Phone: (218) 335-2214.
  • Otis, D.S. The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian Lands. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.
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  • Unger, Steven ed. The Destruction of American Indian Families. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Indian Affairs, 1979.
  • Vogel, Virgil. This Country Was Ours. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1974.
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  • Films/Videos: Video: "To Protect Mother Earth". Narrated by Robert Redford. Color. (59 mm.) New York: Cinnamon Productions. Phone: (212) 431-4899.
  • Video: "Broken Treaty At Battle Mountain". Narrated by Robert Redford. Color. (60mm.) New York: Cinnamon Productions, 1974. Phone: (212) 431-4899.
  • Video: "The Trail of Broken Treaties". Color. University Film and Video. Phone: (612) 627-4270.
  • Video: "Where the Spirit Lives". Color. (97mm.) University Film and Video. Phone: (612) 627-4270.
  • Video: "Wiping Away the Tears of Seven Generations". Color. Kifaru Productions, 1992.