Native Americans Describe Traditional Views of Land Ownership

The Dawes Act of 1887 sought to assimilate Native Americans by, among other things, transforming their traditional uses and attitudes about land and land ownership to more mainstream American values of private ownership and settled farming. Some Native Americans did become farmers, convinced that assimilation into white society and a property deed were their only protection against those who would rob them of their lands. Others rejected the white man's world of markets, deeds, schools and Christianity. Encouraging resistance, they deemed the government's allotment strategy a conspiracy to destroy tribal culture and organization.

I wish all to know that I do not propose to sell any part of my country, nor will I have whites cutting our timber along the rivers, more especially the bark.  I am particularly fond of the little groves of oak trees.  I love to look at them, because they endure the wintry storm and the summer's heat, and--not unlike ourselves--seem to flourish by them.  

--Sitting Bull, Lakota warrior, quoted in 1932

Our land is more valuable than your money.  It will last forever.  It will not even perish by the flames of fire.  As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animals.  We cannot sell the lives of men and animals; therefore we cannot sell this land.  It was not put here for us by the Great Spirit and we cannot sell it because it does not belong to us.  You can count your money and burn it within the nod of a buffalo's head, but only the great Spirit can count the grains of sand and the blades of grass of these plains.  As a present to you, we will give you anything we have that you can take with you, but the land never!

--Crowfood, chief of the Blackfeet, circa 1885

You ask me to plow the ground.  Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's bosom?  You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like white men.  But dare I cut off my mother's hair?  

--Anonymous Native America, circa 1880s

Source | Quoted in American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, "The Iron Horse vs. the Buffalo: Indian-Settler Conflict on the Great Plains: 1869-90," (Teacher's Handbook).
Creator | Various
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Various, “Native Americans Describe Traditional Views of Land Ownership,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 2, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1543.