The assault on American Indian tribal relationships
Whilst United States policy very early showed a disregard for the rights of Indian tribes, the avowed determination to destroy Indian tribal relations did not become the dominant theme until after the Civil War. Prior to that time, “Indian policy” moved in a three-phase cycle — massive treaty-breaking incursions by Americans on Indian lands; war; and then another “treaty” involving “cessions” of Indian lands — systematically repeated, until finally the Indians had been “ceded” into the confines of “reservations”.
The direct assault on tribal relations had been anticipated by half a century; in 1830 the Georgia state legislature nullified Indian tribal laws within the state’s boundaries. This legislation was condemned by its critics as an attack against “the entire social existence of the [Cherokee] tribe”. The exiling of thousands of the Cherokee people over the Trail of Tears in 1838 was justified on the grounds that “Common property and civilization cannot coexist”. In 1854 (the year of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska “squatter sovereignty” law) the Omaha Indians “ceded” 10,000,000 acres of land to the United States in a “treaty” which, for the first time, provided for the breaking up of the tribe’s remaining lands into individual allotments. The treaty was hailed as giving hope that soon all Indian lands would be “thrown open to the Anglo-Saxon plough”.
To the extent that they were consulted in the matter, the Indians overwhelmingly rejected the “severalty” (individual ownership) option for cancelling tribal land rights. If, in the end, their wishes were ignored, it was not because the Indian point of view was not understood. As the ethnologist J.W. Powell of the Smithsonian Institution informed the United States Congress:
In Indian tribes individual or personal rights and clan rights are very carefully differentiated. The right to the soil, with many other rights, inheres in the clan. Indian morality consists chiefly in the recognition of clan rights; and crime in Indian society consists in the violation of these clan rights. In Indian society the greatest crime is the claim of an individual to land, and it is also a heinous sin against religion.
“Citizenship”, he concluded, “is incompatible with kinship society”.
By 1859, a general assault on tribal ownership of land was under way, which would become the central feature of United States “Indian policy” and its “civilizing mission”. The legislative culmination of that assault came with Congressional passage in 1887 of the Dawes General Allotment Act. Its purpose and rationale were articulated with drumfire consistency and remarkable clarity. In his 1859 annual report to Congress, US Indian Affairs Commissioner Charles E. Mix advocated converting reservation lands to individual allotments. Indian “possession of large bodies of land in common”, was the root of what Mix saw as “habits of indolence and profligacy”. A Congressman cited Mix’s report in arguing that “the first step to be taken” in the execution of Indian policy was in “uprooting the community of property system [and] … extinguishing or modifying the tribal relation”. In the course of the 1866 debate on relations with the Sioux, Representative Burleigh of Dakota recalled that, as United States Indian Agent there in 1862, he “did advocate the removal of the [Sioux] women and children with a view to wiping out the tribe”.
While the Paris Commune  was yet within living memory, in the era of Haymarket  and the robber barons, the destruction of tribal relations was polemically associated with the threat of socialism and communism. In the year the Second Socialist International was formed, Indian Commissioner T.J. Morgan showed, more than most socialists did, an instinctual grasp of the vital link between white supremacy and anti-socialism. “The Indians”, Morgan said, “must conform to ‘the white man’s ways’, peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. The tribal relations should be broken up, socialism destroyed and the family and the autonomy of the individual substituted”. The year before, Commissioner Oberly had pointed out the great moral gulf fixed between the two societies, where “neither can say of all the acres of the tribe. ‘This is mine'”. With the allotment to individuals of Indian tribal lands, he theorized, the Indian would be able to emulate “the exalting egotism of American civilization, so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’, and ‘This is mine’, instead of ‘This is ours'”. If the Indians rejected this tutelage, he concluded, it should be forced on them, as it were, for their own good.
~ Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Volume One: ‘Racial Oppression and Social Control’, Verso, 1994, pp.36–38.