Opinion

Steve Russell: Quest for gold led to destruction of Indian treaties






New Echota in present-day Georgia served as the capital of the Cherokee Nation until the tribe was forced out following the discovery of gold in 1829. Photo by Ashe

Steve Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, discusses how the United States broke numerous treaties in its quest to take gold from indigenous nations:
Indians discovered Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492. Some people believed he had come there looking for heathen souls that could be saved for the Christian God; others said his purpose was to become wealthy. In his diaries, Columbus mentioned God 26 times. He mentioned gold 114 times.

The Spanish in the Americas, from Columbus forward, usually just wanted to know where the gold was. If the Indians didn’t tell, they were tortured, brutalized for what the conquistadores took as insolence. If the Indians did tell them, they were worked to death in the mines, brutalized for the crime of having wealth they could not defend.

The United States of America, showing its exceptionalism, forwent the death penalty for Indians possessing gold. The punishment was merely loss of the lands guaranteed in the last treaty with the U.S. The wholesale killings were incidental to the evictions they accompanied.

The Treaty of Washington in 1819 left the Cherokee a much bigger reservation than they have today. An ironic addendum to that treaty created a “turnpike company” with both Cherokee and settler management, and ownership of that turnpike to be built to revert to the Cherokee Nation in 20 years. No one appeared to consider the possibility that the Cherokee Nation would no longer be in the vicinity of that road in 20 years.

The Cherokee were guaranteed their remaining lands in 1819, and so it was until gold was discovered at Dahlonega, Cherokee Nation, in 1828. No treaty could stop the miners who descended like locusts. This spate of anti-Indian violence did not end until President Andrew Jackson engineered the bogus Treaty of New Echota in 1835.

Read More on the Story:
Steve Russell: Sovereign Mineral Rights and Wrongs, Part I: The Golden Curse (Indian Country Today 12/22)