United States governmental and native voices in the nineteenth century: Rhetoric in the removal and allotment of American Indians

Jason Edward Black
Dept. of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park
July, 2006


This study situates institutional and American Indian discourses at the interstices of nineteenth century ideologies that underscored interactions of the U.S.- Native relationship. Specifically, the project argues that both U.S. governmental and American Indian voices contributed to the policies of U.S.-Native relations throughout the removal and allotment eras. Simultaneously, these discourses co-constructed the identities of both the U.S. government and American Indian communities and contributed textures to the relationship. Such interactions---though certainly not equal among groups---demonstrated the hybridity extant in U.S.-Native affairs in the nineteenth century. That is, both governmental and indigenous discourses added arguments, identity constructions and rhetorical strategies to the relationship. Ultimately, the study argues that this hybridity helped shape 'Indian' policies and constituted cultural identities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. American Indians, it is contended, achieved numerous goals in terms of impeding the removal and allotment policies. Likewise, by appropriating the U.S. government's discursive frameworks and inventing their own rhetorical strategies, American Indian communities helped reshape their own and the government's identities. Natives, further, worked through the government's homogenization of indigenous culture to organize a pan- Indianism that allowed them to unify in opposition to the government's policies and constructions of American Indian identities. During the first third of the twentieth century, American Indian agency was shown to impact the U.S.-Native relationship as Natives urged for the ultimately successful passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and the Indian New Deal of 1934.
These acts granted U.S. citizenship to American Indians and also allowed them connections to their tribal cultures, respectively. American Indian resistance throughout the removal and allotment eras helped motivate these more emancipatory policies of the U.S.-Native relationship. American Indians concomitantly challenged the government- instigated identity constructions of Natives as savage, childish, weak and uncivilized into positive self- characterizations of independence, strength and unity. Similarly, American Indians interrogated the government's self-professed identities as benevolent, paternal, just and civilized; in the process, they illustrated how the U.S. government acted through deception and fraud. In the end, Native communities were granted increased discursive power, though the U.S. government still retained its control over American Indians. Part of this control derived from the government's territorial management of Natives, which functioned as a crucial space for constituting American Indian and governmental identities. The Indian Citizenship Act and the Indian New Deal---where this study concludes---demonstrated the prevalence of the identity duality of U.S. citizenship that assimilated American Indians to the nation, yet segregated them on reservations outside the spaces of the U.S. civis. This duality of inclusion and exclusion was built incrementally through the removal and allotment periods, and existed as residues of nineteenth century U.S.-Native relations. Here, the U.S. government transformed its self-identity constructions as paternal, benevolent and equitable into a controlled citizenship and
controlled sovereignty over American Indian communities. In so doing, the legislative and judicial branches---led by the executive---reified its constructions of American Indians as monolithically dependent, quasi citizens and unworthy of complete autonomy. At the same time, the executive branch ascended as the principle force in U.S.-Native affairs.