You are on page 1of 2

The actions of Native Americans themselves contributed nothing to the advancement of their civil rights in

the period from 1865-1992. (25 Marks)

The actions of Native Americans (NA) across the period of 1865 to 1992 can be categorised into various themes of
activity which assists in the evaluation of Native American contribution - political involvement, direct action/militancy
and legal action. Nonetheless, the onset of 1865 saw 86 independent tribes, entirely justifying the above statement of
non-existent contribution due to constant tribal competition that somewhat hindered the application of any of the
mentioned themes. At the other end of the period however, the extent to which NA court cases such as 1986 Charrier
v. Bell were respected and thus positively altering legal standings entirely refutes the above premise, extending a
revised judgement that infers notable contribution. Regardless of the extent to which these campaigns were
significantly contributory within later years, evoking the position evolution of NA contribution to the advancement of
their civil rights, the earlier diminution of contribution must also be accounted for, inferring a progressive instatement of
contribution. Hence, it would be correct to rephrase the above premise, instead stating that The actions of Native
Americans themselves contributed gradually and progressively to the advancement of their civil rights in the period
from 1865-1992, largely respondent to the evolving political and social climate, and this will be the stance echoed
throughout the essay.

The political movements of NA can be used to evaluate the given premise, seeing complete fluctuation from initial
inter-tribal conflict to developed unity between the years 1865 to 1992. This prolongs the judgement that contribution
cannot be termed as one specific entity - politically, NA contribution to the advancement of their civil rights fluctuated in
response to both internal and external factors. The onset of 1865 saw the existence of 86 independent tribes, varying
in ideals, retrospective cultures and NA foundations. Thus the political instability within NA tribes inevitably created
intense divisions, hence dilapidating any form of a united front against governmental persecution - NA contribution
cannot be justified, as internal divisions prevented any interest in external societal pressures. The lack of unity, and
subsequent inability to provide a co-operative front, is testament to the vast fatalities in the later 1890 Wounded Knee
Massacre, which saw approximately 200 NA killed; this was simply due to the above-mentioned inter-tribal fracturing,
which prevented secure combat agreements and thus determined a non-contributory output overall. Nonetheless, it
must be considered that such tribal independence occurred at a time of low economic subsidisation; the Civil War had
not long ended, and thus the funds to NA were almost non-existent. In this sense, economic instability transferred
directly to the tribes and their struggle for civil rights survival, and thus their lack of contribution (particularly when
challenged by wealthy government authorities) was not an overriding opinion; more so that NA had the financial
inability to co-operate whatsoever. Incapability and subsequent lack of contribution is not a thriving trend however, and
by the turn of the century, the first attempt at a political pressure group was emphasised by the 1911 Society of
American Indians. The politics-focused association campaigned to improve education and health care, instantly
emphasising the significant contribution of NA towards the civil rights advancements due to the centring on methods of
social progression, with active political contesting simply heightening the extent to which NA can be seen contributing.
Although the SAI was eventually led into decline in 1920, the extent to which contribution has been justified cannot be
alternatively refuted; once again, economic downturn and limited funds simply prevented the furthering of NA
contribution to the advancement of their civil rights, identifying contribution that was instead hindered. Moreover,
strong judgement of contribution can be extended; paralleling this effective pressure group, the Second World War
witnessed the establishment of the National Congress of American Indians. Unifying various tribes, the association
pressured issues of discrimination, unequal opportunity and the breaking of lawful treaties - the wide retrospect of
issues encompassed by the political pressure group intensifies the contribution of NA politically, as their influence was
widespread and their focus vast. Additionally, the 1944 establishment marked the first exploitation of mass protest,
identifying heightening contribution from large numbers of NA both via expanding forces and also through intensified
campaign. The 1960s saw the biggest shift in political contribution on behalf of the NA population via the
establishment of the political movement, the Red Power Movement. Inspired by the progress of Black Power, the
movement publicised pride of race and culture, leading to the formation of the American Indian Movement in 1968.
The extent to which NA prolonged contribution towards the advancement of their civil rights from the earlier period to
later parallels is evident; the ability to influence formation of further movements emphasises the vast intervention of
NA, so much so that their ideology could be spread into other political areas. Although influence was later limited
under Reagans rule of Native Capitalism, this was an unavoidable social constraint and thus the judgement of NA
contribution must remain unaltered. It is therefore evident that political contribution was a fluctuating entity, entirely
respondent to the opportunistic or hostile climate encompassing NA.

Direct action significantly identifies NA contribution and/or the lack of its intervention in the advancement of civil rights,
evaluating the above premise under another theme. In terms of militancy, violence was a prominent entity from the
onset of the period, with the Plains Wars introducing direct action from 1865. As government troops were withdrawn
from the NA Plains and replaced with disinterested volunteer troops, tribes rose up against governmental action,
instantly evoking their contribution with regard to withstanding federal threat and prejudice. Their (NA) rejection of
mistreatment via means of direct and violent protest inarguably forms evidence of NA contribution, as formal
malpractice on the Plains was not left to become a social norm; instead, it was refuted by significant numbers of tribes,
denying the initial premise as the government were effectively challenged by NA. Although many NA were brutally
murdered by federal government suggesting their inability to convene at a recognisable level, it must be accounted for
that NA funds were incomparable to that of white privilege and therefore contribution only appears diminished due to
Georgia Lennon
hierarchal supremacy. Thus, the extent of contribution is maintained, as NA contribution on any level refutes the initial
premise altogether, particularly in cases of direct action such as the Little Crows War of the Plain Wars that witnesses
physical contribution. This direct form of contribution is echoed in the later period of 1964 - hundreds of NA met in
Washington DC for the recognition of LBJs War On Poverty. The mass assembly of NA in central America, and hence
outside of tribal comforts, further maintains judgements of contribution towards civil rights advancements, because not
only were tribes perceived to be conforming with the presidential mindset, but also displayed a directly enforced
interest in the rule of America, thus gaining respect with regard to the advancement of their civil rights. The effects and
progression of the War On Poverty must be credited to the contribution of LBJs executive presidency, however,
particularly in this circumstance; the convention of NA simply displayed approval rather than significant contribution,
whereas the contribution realistically extended from presidential law enforcements. Thus, contribution in this instance
is minimally diminished due to the somewhat passive appeal of NA. Nonetheless, the 1969 Siege of Alcatraz
reinforces the contribution of NA direct action towards the advancement of their civil rights; a group of NA from a
myriad of tribes occupied the island of Alcatraz and demanded its return, inferring initial contribution due to their non-
negotiable attitudes that asserted a certain strength to the NA society. The occupiers offered the government $24
(price awarded to NA for Manhattan), however the government refused to comply to any form of negotiation.
Eventually the NA lost the battle for supremacy, suggesting their limited extent of contribution, however this judgement
can be combatted once more by the resulting factors of the Siege. The stand-off initiated by NA generated an intense
public platform for the minority society via constant media coverage, thus creating empathetic means of assistance
towards the campaign - the NA contribution is emphasised, as without the initial formation of direct action, the platform
of publicity could never have been devised (NA were unable to achieve anything through the ballot box as they formed
only 1% of the electorate), preventing the turn of attention towards the tribal way of life. The extent to which publicity
was received was on an international level, inarguably emphasising the contribution of NA. Thus, it is evident that
direct action suspends evidence that somewhat refutes the given premise; active involvement, both in alignment and
opposition with the federal government, inevitably determines extensive contribution. Although losses within direct
militancy seem to suggest the credibility of the given statement, this is only testament to NA economic privation and
thus the vast contribution of NA action is maintained.

The legal action of NA concludes the judgement of contribution to the advancement of their civil rights. The first legal
battle imposed by NA tribes is not evident until the turn of the century and the release of the Hitchcock cases; a trend
particularly supported by the prominence of early congressional legislation such as the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty that
eventually allowed for the exploitation of legal terms (federal government seized negotiated land in 1877) without any
such appeal from NA. This evokes the entire absence of NA contribution due to the unchallenged and overriding
prevalence of persecutory legislation. Nonetheless, the widespread social culture of Manifest Destiny; the belief that it
was Americans God-given destiny to expand settlement, thus intervening with NA settlement, was almost impossible
to combat due to its retrospective forces over the American nation. Hence, it would be incorrect to state that NA were
entirely non-contributory - rather that they had no hierarchical power to exert any such influence until later years. The
1902 Cherokee Nation v. Hitchcock case reverses this NA helplessness however, reinstating significant contribution
that is otherwise termed as one of the first congressional challenges - the Cherokee tribe challenged the right of
Congress to deny them the right to live according to their personal laws and traditions. Regardless of the outcome,
this landmark confrontation of the legislative branch of government suggests fully concerted action against the law and
subsequent legal limitations, with such challenging of superiority declaring full contribution to the advancement of civil
rights - NA now had a legal/legislative voice. This contributory air of prosperity is mirrored into the latter years, with the
Oneida v. Oneida and Madison Counties, New York case challenging the financial status of the Supreme Court. This
challenge of yet another branch of federal government associated with legislation infers contribution, as the influence
of NA was notably widening to encompass all areas of government discrimination. The Oneida tribe brought the case
to sue for the return of their lands. This was an extremely important case as the Court firmly decided in favour of the
tribe, thus reinforcing contribution as such NA government intervention kickstarted the firm and positive legal
representation of tribes altogether; without challenge to federal authority, the advancement of civil rights would have
remained an unattainable prospect. The result of the case refutes the given statement entirely, as NA success
welcomed an increase in the number of actions taken by tribes to regain lands, hence generating a positive multiplier
effect of contribution. In this sense, the Oneida v. Oneida and MC case can be assessed as the epitomising
foundations of the extension of contribution into later years, once more denying the non-contributory judgement first
presented. Instead, contribution with regard to legal action was an ever-growing entity, largely respondent to the
legislative mindset of America as a whole - Manifest Destiny and westward expansion prevented mass contribution in
earlier years, yet there was an air of NA growth concluding with entire legal contribution towards the end of the period.

Overall, it is evident that NA contribution towards the advancement of their civil rights was a factor very heavily reliant
on an ever-changing American perspective and federal climate; the ageing development of American society is
mirrored in NA advancements, becoming progressive overall. Regardless of the best efforts of NA to contribute to an
early-centred hostile and white privilege community, a non-contributory attitude seems easy to presume; this
judgement is incorrect upon evaluation, however. Themes of political, legal and direct action evoke an increasingly
contributory manner, only ever diminished by external standings, and this therefore rewrites the initially presented
statement - The actions of Native Americans themselves contributed gradually and progressively to the advancement
of their civil rights in the period from 1865-1992.

Georgia Lennon