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The Formation Of The Bureau Of Indian Affairs History Essay

Throughout human history population migration has occurred. It is neither a new phenomena nor an historical tale. Rather, it is an ongoing aspect of the human condition. There are many types of population transfer or migration, and their effects are as varied as the people involved. Population transfer, the movement of a group of people from one area to another has been documented of having occurred 150,000 years ago. The Greeks began settling colonies from about 750 B.C. Africa is believed to have been colonized by 1000A.D. In the 16th century Europeans were entering what are now American ports and the pace was accelerated in the 18th century. Archeological evidence suggests that the Navajo and Apache entered the Southwest around 1000A.D. and increased in population by the 13th century. Their homeland territory centered on the Colorado Plateau and extended from central New Mexico on the east to southern Nevada on the west. Southern Nevada, Utah and Colorado formed the northern boundary while the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in Arizona and the Rio Puerco and the Rio Grande in New Mexico comprised the southern edge.

Forced migration is a term used when the migration of a group of people is against their will. More often than not, this means a violent connotation, where masses of people are displaced from one area to another. When this forced displacement is the result of a specific policy targeted at specific races or groups of people, usually by some government body, it can be referred to as ethnic cleansing. (Forced Migration, 2010) Recently, ethnic cleansing has come to mean any form of violence with ethnicity as it primary motive. This can run the gambit from torture, murder, rape, as well as forced migration. Although forced migration has existed throughout history following war and persecution, only recently has it come under increased attention. (Forced Migration, 2010)

As more and more people reach greater levels of connectivity, the world becomes a smaller place, and the story of one forced migrant becomes front-page news read by millions. This has lead to an outcry for basic human rights, and as a result there have been many new international policies to improve humanitarianism throughout the world. In 1993, the United Nations Commission formally defined ethnic cleansing as "the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.” (Forced Migration, 2010) Although similar, ethnic cleansing is not genocide. While thousands of Navajo were forcibly removed with an act of ethnic cleansing, there were many instances of murder. (McNitt, 1972) While ethnic cleansing involves the movement of a population to remove them from an area, genocide is the outright murder of a people or part of a population in order to move them from an area. Both terms are related by their ends, but the means of accomplishing them are different.

By the 19th century the theory of Manifest Destiny, the suggestion that the United States was an exquisitely privileged nation and ought to expand from coast to coast was proposed by the U.S. government to rationalize their war against Mexico. This impacted the Native American people directly because it heightened discord between new settlers and the Native American Indian civilizations. These skirmishes spurred awareness among white Americans that their new land was a precious and limited commodity and not always readily conducive to agrarian development. To remove the threat of others settling on the land, colonists insisted upon the removal of Indians, and U.S. government officials obliged. Displacement of Indians, including the Navajo, implicated the coercion of natives off their lands, seizure of their belongings, and forcibly migrating them to pre-determined areas such as Indian territories and ultimately Indian reservations.

Fort Defiance was built in 1851 to establish a US military presence in Navajo territory. It was developed on significant grazing land that the government prohibited the Navajo from using. This resulted in intense fighting and raids. In the spring of 1860, Baboncito and Manuelito, two prominent men among the Navajo, were resolute to abolish the American presence on their land. Together they spearheaded an attack on Fort Defiance carried out by about eleven hundred warriors. The fort was nearly lost to the valiant Navajos, but the U.S. soldiers ultimately claimed victory. (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ) This, among other battles, reinforced the conviction Army officers held that the Navajos would never submit to governance without military force. In New Mexico in late 1862, a new commander, General James Carleton, was appointed. By this point, the Civil War had started so soldiers were allocated and preferred to dedicate themselves to those battlefields instead of combating the Navajo nation. Carleton elected to apply his troops’ lust for battle towards the efforts to forcibly migrate the Navajo tribes. He did this with permission from the governor of New Mexico who felt his constituents were intimidated by and felt defenseless against the local Indians. Carleton commissioned the building of Fort Sumner to protect the settlers and created at the same time the Bosque Redondo reservation, a 40 square mile area where over 9000 Navajo were forced to live. After determining that he could influence and alter their culture by restricting their territory, Carleton confined the Navajo to a small parcel of land under U.S. control. He imagined that this tribe would lose its rich cultural heritage after a few generations of suppression and would absorb white American civilization.

Carleton chose Christopher (Kit) Carson to direct the reinforced resistance against the Navajo, although Carson was not completely convinced about the functionality and longevity of the new strategy. The Army officials decided to construct a new fort to contain the displaced Indians. This new encampment, Fort Sumner, was erected and the Mescalero Apache were the first to be fully displaced there.

Carson led his men to Fort Defiance, Navajo country, in the summer of 1863 in their quest to overtake the Indians and relocate them to Fort Sumner. It was agreed that any natives who resisted Carson’s men and their campaign were subject to slaughter. The Navajo were not forewarned about the impeding mission and danger of Carson’s men and their lack of willingness to negotiate. The Navajos greatly outnumbered the recently displaced Apache, and were fully knowledgeable about how to traverse their arduous landscape. Carson’s troops struggled to pursue the fleeing Navajo over their land. Extreme actions were required of Carson to carry out Carleton’s callous objective. Carson aimed to deplete the Navajo’s resources, and therefore, their willpower by implementing a “scorched earth program” to starve the Indians out of their sacred site of Canyon De Chelly and coerce their surrender.

A year from its inception, Carson’s mission had forced the surrender and migration of 8,000 Navajo who were marched 400 miles to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. This inhumane atrocity has become known as the “Long Walk” where the Navajo endured great abuse. Any Navajo who combated Carson’s troops, even the elderly and young children, were mercilessly abused driven to maintain a consistent pace. Many Navajo did manage to escape, however some of those escapees struggled for survival away from their lands and families and surrendered themselves to the U.S. troops. Once encamped in Fort Sumner, the Navajo further endured tragic agony and resentment from their internment and displacement from their territory. Lacking proper nutrition from being fed scant amounts of rancid food, many Navajo became sick and died at the hands of the corrupt Army personnel charged with rations and supplies. More troops assigned to the guardianship of the Navajo ransacked the fort and further abused the imprisoned Indians.

After years of mistreatment of the interned Navajos, non-Indians criticized Carleton's plan and reproached his unjust methods and management of the natives. Instead of allowing the Navajo to return to their white-developed homeland, the U.S. settlers determined it would be less expensive to relocate the Indians to yet another location, this time not under U.S. administration. An Indian Territory was already founded in modern Oklahoma, but Barboncito, the renowned representative of the Navajo, refused to accept this new location and implored the settlers to allow them to return to their native land. The U.S. government declined Barboncito’s request on his people’s behalf but did construct a treaty with the tribe which granted them 3.5 million acres in today’s northwest New Mexico and northeast Arizona. The treaty also granted opportunities for schooling, livestock, crop seeds, and farming equipment. The farm animals (cattle, sheep and horses) given to the Navajo would garner economic support and stability for them, but also create more strife with the U.S. government.

Today the Navajo reservation spans roughly 26,000 square miles, occupying all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. (Wiki) This homeland comprises the largest area of land inhabited and presided over by a Native American tribe within the U.S. (Albuquerque Journal By Michael Hartranft) Incredibly, the 2000 census reported nearly 300,000 Navajo people residing throughout the United States. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of New Delhi, India at that time. (Mongabay, 2007) The Navajo concentrated within their nation’s boundaries are about 174,000 which equates to about 58%. About 131,000 of these Navajo lived in Arizona, the largest concentration of who reside in Maricopa County including the city of Phoenix. (Bureau, 2010)

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was established in 1824 by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to support and provide necessary services for Native Americans, largely in response to the many injustices served against natives. (Who We Are: BIA, 2010) Calhoun created the official BIA without U.S. Congressional consent but based it off of a pre-existing agency. Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin were some of the first officials of the BIA’s source agency established by the Second Continental Congress and were included in many treaty-making operations with Native Americas, namely with preserving their neutrality in the Revolutionary War. The office of Commissioner of Indian Affairs was formed in 1832 by Congress and was lead by its first Indian, Ely Samuel Parker, in 1869.

The BIA has been concerned with the execution and response to many controversial policies. One of these controversial policies that got the most attention was during the 1940s. This policy dictated that Navajo children would be sent to special boarding schools taught in English. The idea was to remove them from their native language and culture. The government thought that if you could integrate the children into the more general culture, it would be an easy way of dealing with the rising criticism surrounding the Navajo Nation. There were even some instances of children being beaten for praying to their Native creator. (Funk, 2010)

During the 1970s, vocal activist groups such as the American Indian Movement began to gain a significant following. This rising tide of criticism concerned the government, and as a result, the 1970s were a tumultuous time for the BIA. (Who We Are: BIA, 2010) The government responded in many questionable ways. The BIA’s police force was involved with many notorious actions such as the Pine Ridge shootout and the occupation of the BIA headquarters and Wounded Knee. Furthermore, the BIA also had their hand in the appointing of the ill-famed tribal authority Dick Wilson. Wilson was later seen as a sort of dictator due to his use of a private violent police known as the Guardians of the Oglala Nation, or by the Navajo, the “Good Squad.” (Funk, 2010)

The Navajo Nation has overcome and continues to struggle against many obstacles resulting from their displacement and lack of governmental funding. With help from agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, this great nation will one day regain its lost resources with the strength and pride it has managed to maintain through centuries of conflict and persecution.

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