Bureau of Indian Affairs This is a great day for you and for us. A day of peace and friendship between you and the whites for all time to come. You are about to be paid for your lands, and the GREAT FATHER has sent me today to treaty with you concerning the payment...And the GREAT FATHER wishes you to have homes, pastures for your horses and fishing places. he wishes you to learn to farm and your children to go to a good school; and he now wants me to make a bargain with you, in which you will sell your lands and in return be provided all these things. â€“ Isaac I. Stevens, 1854 The US governmentâ€™s official role in Indian affairs began as far back as the Continental Congress (1786) when the Indian tribes were still considered independent nations with whom the settlers had to make treaties (Jackson 1). The purposes for these interactions were to buy land and to keep peace between encroaching settlers and natives. Unfortunately, these first transactions reflected the cultural misunderstandings between the two parties that would continue to plague communication until this century (Taylor 5). The Europeans assumed the Indians viewed land in the same wayâ€”individuals owning plots of land for agricultural purposes. Most of the eastern tribes were nomadic and moved to meet seasonal needs for hunting. When the Europeans offered to buy land, the natives did not understand that they would thence be barred from the use of that land for migrating and for hunting. Even at these early stages of negotiations, conflicts arose between the two levels of government as to who had jurisdiction. The federal government alone had authority to make treaties with foreign nations, but the states had to deal with the individual tribes. This led to more local intervention by "agents" of the federal government to actually negotiate between states and tribes (Jackson 15). Another role of these agents was, as Henry Knox stated, "to familiarize Indians with the American way of living" (Jackson 20). As the bureaucracy began to develop to meet the needs of the westward expansion, the departmentâ€™s oversight was given to the Secretary of War. This did not seem to be an intentional statement of purpose but rather a decision of convenience because the Department of the Interior did not exist yet. However, Francis Prucha felt that this may have been because the Indians had been viewed as siding with the British during the Revolutionary War and thus were adversaries(319).
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