Albert Bender: Tribes should reclaim land from unratified treaties

A statue of activist Sarah Winnemucca, who sought the return of land to the Northern Paiutes after the U.S. Senate failed to ratify a treaty with her people, represents Nevada in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Photo from Architect of the Capitol

The United States negotiated hundreds of treaties with tribes but a large number went unratified. Albert Bender, a member of the Cherokee Nation, shines a light on the issue:
The need for land recovery under treaty law is of paramount importance to all affected tribes. One can see when looking at any U.S. map of reservations how little land is held by the tribes. For the most part reservations look like specks of pepper in the grand scale of national geography. This is a disgrace!

There at least 150 unratified treaties, which means that millions of acres are just waiting to be reclaimed by the tribes. Action should be taken, both legal and otherwise.

To further emphasize the meaning of unratified treaties, take, for example, California. In 1851-52 the U.S. sent a treaty commission to negotiate with the tribes of that state to legally clear the way for white settlement. The genocidal slaughter of California Indians began in 1848 and was roaring forward with a pace that can only be compared to the horrific, blood-soaked Spanish invasion of the Indies.

The U.S. commissioners signed 18 treaties with over 500 representatives of various California-based nations, setting aside 8.5 million acres. This may sound like a lot, but it is not: it is divided into small parcels, the largest being no more than 25,000 acres of the least desirable land, far away from the coast with its abundant fishing resources. The 18 treaties were negotiated in order for the U.S. to secure title to lands that the tribes were giving up in exchange for guaranteed reserved lands (reservations) in perpetuity, where they would be secure from slaughter by the invading whites. Incredibly, these treaties gathered dust for decades until 1905. The Senate never ratified the treaties that meant no land was reserved for these California tribes. But, on the other hand, this also meant that these nations legally ceded no land to the United States, no land was given up, which means that the land in question still belongs to the tribes to the present day.

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Albert Bender: Indian treaty enforcement could benefit from Oregon occupation (People's World 2/9)

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