The Human Rights of Native Americans
A natural right is something every man, woman, and child is born with and can never be taken away. Every person being born with rights has the obligation to pursue obtaining them through entrusting a body of government or authority to protect those rights(Locke). Rights to safety and freedom have developed as basic human rights through history so that people have freedom from an oppressive body and safety to ensure the quality of life.
The human rights of Native Americans to live freely and preserve their traditions in a safe environment were systematically violated in the pursuit of progress and westward expansion. Negative stereotypes of Native Americans bolstered discriminatory policies that forcibly took the land, basic freedoms, and cultural traditions away from many tribes. The Cherokee Nation experienced first hand the pressure to conform to white Americans. At one time the Cherokees territory stretched for 81 million acres across numerous states in the southeast of the country, much of this land was wanted by state and federal governments. In spite of poor relations with whites, the Cherokees made a clear effort to keep their lands and freedom by working towards a better relationship with the United States government and cultivating white society.
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Despite their efforts, the United States Congress would pass the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830. This act would ultimately remove thousands of Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and other southeastern tribes from their lands during the 1820s through 1840s in exchange for tracts of lands west of the Mississippi River. The Cherokees were rounded up by gunpoint, separated from their families and were forced to live in hot inhumane conditions as prisoners, where disease and sickness quickly spread. Individuals then were demanded to travel on foot, wagon, and boat around 800 miles to a new stretch of land leaving their property and homeland to white Americans. This removal would become known as the Trail of Tears. To examine the violations of human rights upon the Cherokee people it is necessary to research to what extent were the Cherokees rights to live freely and safely broken by the state and federal governments through the process of Indian Removal Act? While the Federal Government believed that the Indian Removal Act would ultimately protect Native American culture, it infringed upon the rights of the Cherokee Nation to live freely and safely within their own sovereign nation.
Chapter 2: Protecting the Cherokee People and Culture
The Federal government, led by Andrew Jackson, justified the Indian Removal Act as a solution to preserve the Cherokee people’s freedom and safety from violence coming from state governments and American citizens. In 1802 the state of Georgia and Congress had a pact, in which Georgia gave up western land claims in the exchange for the removal of Native American land titles by the federal government. However, there was a conflict with this agreement because of preexisting treaties between the U.S. and the Cherokee which granted them protection and security in their lands. This lead to Georgia taking matters into its own hands and as the Georgia population increased so did the number of white invaders moving into Cherokee land.
The state of Georgia continued to infringe on the Cherokees rights to freedom when gold was discovered near their capital, New Echota, in 1892. In this instance, Georgia passed a law which bared Cherokee from collecting gold based on the proclamation made by the governor of Georgia, George R. Gilmer, stating that Georgia had rights to Cherokee land. This proclamation was a state-sponsored green light for trespassers, thieves, and cattle rustlers who flooded the nation. Despite the complaints from the Cherokee nation, Jackson repeatedly said that removal was the only way to give the Cherokee peace.
Another law infringing the Cherokee people’s freedom was in 1831 when Georgia began allotting land in the Cherokee nation to citizens in a land lottery which forced many from their homes. Additionally, another law was passed that denied Cherokee from being able to testify in a trial with white males(B17). In response to the actions of Georgia, John Ross the elected President of the Nation during Indian Removal, took these complaints and pleaded to President Jackson to stop the State of Georgia; the president stated: “Go home and tell your people that their only hope of relief is in abandoning their country and removing to the west”. President Jackson, and those loyal to him justified the Indian removal act as the only solution for the tribe to be safe and free to preserve Native American culture. He claimed that his policy was liberal and generous for, “The red man… he is unwilling to submit to the laws of the states and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative or perhaps utter annihilation the general government kindly offers him a new home and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement”. The government offered the Cherokees a deal that exchanged their lands for a tract of land the same size where present-day Arkansas and Oklahoma are, and financial assistance and compensation for lands in the southeast. Jackson along with many supporters of the removal verbalized this was a “generous” offer that would save the Cherokee nation, protecting their human rights to freedom and safety.
Chapter 3: The Cherokees Right to Live Freely:
Both state and federal governments infringed on the Cherokee’s freedoms by violating treaties. The state of Georgia violated treaties between the U.S. and the Cherokee, that granted the Cherokee freedom and safety as a separate nation. One such treaty granted the Cherokee the power to create their own constitution, government, laws, and systems within their own country.
Despite this legal agreement the Georgia government and it’s citizens ignored these guarantees of sovereignty and continued to pass laws that violate the freedoms the Cherokee nation. Georgia in addition to many other states ended up passing laws that prevented Cherokee men to testify in court with a white man so that in instances of Cherokee and Georgian conflict Cherokees could not defend themselves or charge others in court. Georgia passed another law that made it illegal for white men to live in the Cherokee nation on the notion to arrest white missionaries living in Cherokee land with the permission of the Cherokee people in 1832. The laws that Georgia passed against the Cherokee infringed on their basic rights of freedom in which the Cherokee had negotiated treaties to have the right to be free and have no foreign authority to control their freedoms and rights. Georgia’s actions controlled the Cherokee people and put them under new bonds that prevented them to have freedom. When the federal government passed the Indian Removal Act it violated the Cherokees rights to live freely without a foreign authority. The Indian Removal Act violated the multiple treaties that the Cherokee had with the United States that guaranteed the rights to their land and to be a free nation. However while the United States recognized that the Cherokee was sovereign and had the rights to live freely without the overarching authority of the United States, Andrew Jackson violated these rights in the specific case of the supreme court ruling of Worcester v. Georgia. This ruling was due to the law passed by Georgia making it illegal for white males to live in the Cherokee nation despite the fact Georgia could not infringe on the Cherokee’s freedom to make such laws. Then, in 1832 nine missionaries were arrested on the account of violating this law, however, two missionaries, Samuel Worcester and Eliezer Butler refused to atone to the charges. The court case was taken to the Supreme court and in the ruling of the trial, Supreme Justice Marshall ruled in favor of the missionaries and the Cherokee nation declaring it a sovereign nation. Justice Marshall’s ruling declared nationally that the Cherokee nation was sovereign, so state and federal governments could not have authority; despite Justice Marshall’s ruling, Andrew Jackson ignored the ruling, never enforcing the law, and continued to tell the Cherokees they needed to abandon their nation and go west. Not only did Andrew Jackson violate pre-existing treaties that guaranteed the Cherokees to be a free people, separate of the United States of America, bypassing the Indian Removal and through removing individuals from their sacred land, but he additionally went against the Supreme court ruling to further violate the Cherokees right to live freely in a sovereign nation without the overarching authority of the United States.
Chapter 4: The Cherokees Right to Safety
President Andrew Jackson and the federal government during the physical removal process of the Cherokee violated their rights to live safely. With the passing of the Indian Removal Act in May of 1830, the Cherokee nation was pressured to abandon their homes and begin the journey west. John Ross the current president of the Cherokee nation, along with many of the Cherokee nation seeing the laws passed by the state of Georgia and the United States to be oppressive on their freedoms, tried to a stop to the laws. In spite of their efforts the remaining Cherokee who didn’t leave on the removal date in the hopes, the law would be overturned in 1836 2,000 federal troops sent by General John E. Wood forcefully disarm the Cherokees and enlisted as many people as they could as voluntary immigrants. Later troops rounded up the remaining Cherokees and imprisoned them in stockades. During this process of removal, the Cherokees were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to live in military posts. Accounts from the missionary Evan Jones reveals that Cherokee was dragged from their homes as prisoners where they were could only take anything with them except the clothes on their back. He says that “The poor captive, in a state of distressing agitation, his weeping wife almost frantic with terror, surrounded by a group of crying, terrified children”. The execution of the removal process done by the United States federal government infringed on the Cherokees right to live safely, as they were forcefully disarmed, taken from their homes at gunpoint, and were terrified for their lives being uprooted through such violence. Additionally, when the Cherokees were brought to the encampments they faced horrendous conditions in the time spent in the camps prior to the walkout west. In the physical stockades, the Cherokee people experienced areas with deep mud up to six inches exposed to the elements having no shelter and only the clothing on their backs. Being kept in small areas with poor living conditions would additionally spark sickness to be spread killing many. One account of the conditions the Cherokee nation faced was recorded by the Reverend Daniel Butrick. He described the living conditions saying “They were obliged to live very much like brute animals; and during their travels, were obliged at night to lie down on the naked ground, in open air, exposed to wind and rain, and herd together, men women and children, like droves of hogs, and in this way many are hastening to a premature grave”. The poor conditions of living quarters, having inadequate shelter, and constant supervision endangered the Cherokee people to disease and death. This treatment violated their right to live safely, to have adequate shelter, private spaces, and overall living conditions within camps.
Chapter 5: Conclusion and Policy Suggestion
The Cherokee nation faced many perils at the hands of white Americans and state and federal governments through the development and implementation of the Indian Removal Act. The state of Georgia along with Andrew Jackson and the United States government violated the Cherokee people’s right to live freely and safely within their own sovereign nation without the overarching power and authority of the United States. The United States implementation methods of removal were unprecedented and irresponsible. Both the state of Georgia and the federal government blatantly ignored pre-existing treaties that guaranteed the Cherokee nation sovereignty. The way the federal government executed the physical removal infringed upon their rights to safety and put the Cherokee nation in hazardous conditions that lead to mass death. While Andrew Jackson’s justification of removal was one of “generosity” due to the fact the United States wanted to protect the Native Americans culture and rights, this action consequently leads to disastrous events. In the hopes of addressing this situation through the lens of presenting a policy to protect the rights of the Cherokee people to live freely and safely it must be necessary to recognize the nations as separate or sovereign from the United States meaning that the U.S. has no right or legal ability to have authority over the Cherokee people. Additionally, it must be made clear that there are clear punishments that hold the U.S. accountable for violating the Cherokees rights. By recognizing that the U.S. has no authority over the sovereignty of the Cherokee nation, in addition to reparations for violating past treaties the rights of the Cherokee people can be protected.”