On this day in history, March 3, 1863, Congress passed a law exiling the Dakota people from Minnesota, a law still in effect today.
Officially, it was called: “An Act for the Removal of the Sisseton, Wahpaton, Medawakanton and Wahpakoota Bands of Sioux or Dakota Indians, and for the disposition of their Lands in Minnesota and Dakotas.”
The law was passed at the urging of Minnesota’s Congress members in the wake of the Dakota-U.S. War; it grew from a mix of fear and greed. It resulted in the exile of the Dakota people from their homeland. Their lands had been diminished to a section of land along the Minnesota River, and with this act the U.S. government allowed for it to be sold to white settlers. The government moved the Dakota to barren land in the Dakota Territory known as Crow Creek.
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There are several other significant historical events that occurred on March 3.
March 3, 1819: Congress passes the Civilization Fund Act, the forerunner to the boarding schools. The Act’s goal was to “stimulate the civilization process.” The website USDakotaWar.org provides the following summary:
In the late eighteenth century, the U.S. government desired to acculturate and assimilate American Indians (as opposed to instituting reservations), and promoted the practice of [educating] Indian children in the ways of white people. To aid this, the Civilization Fund Act of 1819 provided funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on educating Indians, often at schools. Schools were founded by missionaries next to Indian settlements (and later reservations).
March 3, 1871: Congress Ends Treaty Making: Congress passes provisions within the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 ending the long-standing practice of treaty making with “tribes” as sovereign nations. It was a change that Native nations protested. Prior to this 1871 bill, the U.S. government had negotiated and signed treaties with Native Nations for nearly 100 years. According to the Wikipedia:
These treaties, which took much time and effort to finalize, ceased with the passage of the 1871 Indian Appropriation Act, declaring that “no Indian nation or tribe” would be recognized “as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty.”
The National Archives goes on to explain:
The dramatic shift in Federal Indian policy came from a power struggle between the House of Representatives and the Senate over control of Indian Affairs. The negative affects of the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act continued for nearly a century, until Federal Indian policy dramatically changed again, encouraging Native American tribes to exercise self governance over tribal affairs.
March 3, 1885: Congress Passes Law to Strips Native Nations’ Ability to Prosecute Major Crimes on their Own Land: The Major Crimes Act undercut tribal authority to prosecute Native-on-Native crimes on Reservation lands. The website EverythingExplainedToday put it this way:
The Major Crimes Act reduced the internal sovereignty of native tribes by removing their ability to try and to punish serious offenders in Indian country. The theory underlying it was that Indian tribes were not competent to deal with serious issues of crime and punishment.
Initially, the federal government took control of prosecuting murder, manslaughter, rape, assault with the intent to kill, assault, burglary and larceny, according to Wikipedia. The list of crimes in the Major Crimes Act has since grown. (Still, after the Act was passed, many tribes chose to exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the federal courts, and that has been upheld in Appeals Court.)
March 3, 1901: Right-of-Way Through Indian Lands. This federal law gave the Secretary of the Interior the authority to grant state and local authorities highway right of ways through lands belonging to Native Nations.