Into the West by Walter Nugent

OKLAHOMA The Native Americans in the 18th century had a good relationship with the British. There was a royal proclamation in 1763 which gave them certain land rights and which told settlers not to disturb native lands. Following the American Revolution, the natives had to start afresh trying to build a relationship with the newly independent American settlers. This was a lot more difficult. There was more distrust. The Americans invaded the native lands and took them over. There was a lot of bloodshed and unhappiness. There was also a lot of suspicion between both sides and constant skirmishes. The bad blood between the two sides grew over the years, and American administrations tried to expel natives from lands in the east towards the west. They created the Indian Territory north of Texas which had a certain amount of autonomy. The tribes moved there, following the trail of tears. For a long time they had a certain amount of power in the Territory to look after their own affairs, but throughout the 19th century they began to lose the right to govern themselves. Congress took more and more control. In his fascinating book on the subject, Jeffrey Burton describes how this process unfolded:Abolition or reduction of the courts to the Five Nations broke th eback of tribal government for, without an independent judiciary, the tribes were powerless to delay or seriously influence the course of whatever was ordained by the Congress and Executive of the United States. Partial, faltering, idle, or corrupt as many of [the native courts] had been, [they] and the laws upon which they stood represented the clearest tangible expression of a national identity. (238)It was not long afterwards that the Indian Territory was absorbed into the United States, becoming the 46th state: Oklahoma. Its leaders at the time tried to gain entry as two separate states, but Congress didn’t like the idea of giving so much power to the people of the Territory. Thus a sad chapter in American history was closed. Works consultedBurton Jeffrey. Indian Territory and the United States, 1866-1906. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.Nugent, Walter. Into the West. New York: Vintage, 2001.

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