One of the many consequences of the Civil War in the U.S. was the legacy of Reconstruction. Most of the focus of reconstruction has rightly been on the various phases of reconstruction. President Abraham Lincoln had one plan. President Andrew Johnson had another (bad) plan. Congress had a challenging and difficult plan. Each attempted to work through the aftermath of the Civil War, focusing on what to do with the former rebellious states.

By focusing on the rebellious states, attention was drawn away from the similarly rebellious territories including the Indian territory. The Indian territory was not a territory on the way to statehood, but rather referred to the region in which the government forcibly relocated many Native Americans, the area which would evenually become Oklahoma.

In a way, the federal government attempted to “reconstruct” the governments and the relationship between the federal government and the respective tribal governments. In 1866, each of the nations were called together to reestablish the treaty relationship with the United States, ostensibly since the Native Americans rebelled as part of the Confederacy.

This is the first point in which the relationship becomes tricky. Given the region’s southern orientation (adjacent to Arkansas and Texas), the Indian commissioner who had worked with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee, Albert Pike was a southerner. When the war broke out, President Lincoln recalled all Federal Troops to the East and Albert Pike joined the Confederacy. This left the Indian territory unprotected, violating the treaty of New Echota in 1835 in which the government promised to protect the region. Of course President Lincoln was well within his responsibility to recall troops, but that did not forgive the treaty violation.

Albert Pike seized his relationship with the respective Native American nations and his alignment as a southerner to convince at least some people to accept the Confederacy. Enough Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek aligned with the Confederacy for the federal government to declare the region under rebellion. Pike’s reasoning was that the government abandoned the region, but the Confederacy would protect them. Of course, we can see now that there was no way for the Confederacy to keep their promise, but that did not necessarily matter at the time.

It was the treaty of New Echota that codified the relationship between the Cherokee and the United States, yet of course like nearly all treaties, this too would be violated by the United States. When the US wanted to violate it, that was permissible. When Native Americans violated the treaty they were punished for it. The double-standard on treaty violations was not the first time and unfortunately was not the last time.

It was the reconstruction of the treaty relationship in 1866 that was not needed. The treaties of 1866 strongly favored the federal government in a manner to punish the Native Americans, yet Native Americans were not in a position of power to demand the US to understand things from the Native point of view. It was irrelevant whether or not the treaty was actually fair. It was reconstructed when it didn’t need reconstructing.



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May 2024