How Native American Wealth Was Stolen

How Native American Wealth Was Stolen March 2024

How Native American Wealth Was Stolen

Stanford’s Relationships with Native Peoples

Over the last 50-plus years, a great deal of publicity has been given to the way the wealth (Natural Resources) of Native Americans was stolen by the settlers from Europe. Besides historical publications, popular fiction, movies and TV have all contributed to telling the tale of the greed of the White men who rapaciously took whatever they fancied in the way of land and the wealth that came from it. The recent release of “Killers of the Flower Moon” is another effort to tell the story. While the spotlight being shed on the looting of Native American wealth is both welcome and long overdue, there is a danger that presenting the facts, even if somewhat dramatized, using so many different media and through so many stories may detract from the ability to view the whole picture.

The story of the stealing of Native American wealth is a long and complex one but it is important to view what happened holistically and not as a series of uncoordinated efforts that had an unwanted or unplanned result. What follows are 6 key points in the story of how Native American wealth was stolen. If any of these issues resonate with readers, they will find huge amounts of information on specific issues available online.

  • Beginning in the early 1830s, the tribes living in the East were forced by the government to sign treaties that required them to move West. About 100,000 Natives were moved from their ancestral homes to reservations in the West (see Indian Removal Act of 1830
  • In 1871, the government decided that the need to occupy the whole continent made the forced displacement of Natives to reservations unviable, so the US Government ended the Treaty System, and years later the General Allotment Act of 1887 (Dawes Act) was passed by the Congress. This required that the tribal reservation be broken up into individual allotments to individuals. Unallotted land, of which there was a lot, was given to non-native people (see
  • The kicker was a clause that the 160 acres given to an individual (only males were eligible) would be held in trust for 25 years before the clear title was given. The allottees were required to convert to Christianity, take up agriculture and apply for U.S. citizenship during that time. Once this was done, the allottee was judged to be capable of managing his affairs and the title was awarded to him. The land was now subject to taxation and it could be sold.
  • Many of the tribes had limited success with farming and were unable to use or control the lands in their possession. They were more comfortable with communal land ownership which managed the land by traditional tribal methods and governance traditions. When the government forced them to change their way of life, they were faced with small allotments of land they could not manage and taxes they could not pay. They sold their land to the White men who paid them a pittance.
  • Under the terms of the General Allotment Act, the money from gas and oil exploration, mining and other revenue-earning activities from the allotted lands was to be placed in the accounts of the respective tribes who were allotted the lands. However, much of the money disappeared and when the courts ordered that the accounts be submitted, the records were destroyed.
  • By the 1930s, it is estimated that over 90 million acres of land and their natural resources were taken from the tribes.

Today, the appreciation of what was done to the tribes is almost universal and efforts are being made to address historical wrongs. An example of this is Stanford's relationships with native peoples. The Muwekma Ohlone is just one of the huge number of tribes who lived in North America before the arrival of the Europeans in the 17th century and who lost so much. For more information on what the Muwekma are doing to rebuild their tribal identity and reclaim their rights, visit the website.

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Summary: Movies like “Killer of the Flower Moon” once again shine a light on the way Native Americans have been treated over the centuries and the way their wealth was stolen from them. The problem is that the movie, along with others on the same subject like historical publications, popular fiction and TV shows depict only a small part of the whole story. To understand the scale of the theft of Native American wealth, it is essential to look at the whole picture of what happened and how it was done.