Forced Removal of Native Americans


After conflict with the U.S. Army ended in 1885, the Apache were to be held as prisoners of war for two years and then allowed to return to their own land in Arizona. Instead they were imprisoned for 27 years. Pictured: Apache women and children prisoners seated with two American soldiers, 1881. (SPC Sw Apache NAA 4877 Baker & Johnston 02027700, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.)

When Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, ten million indigenous people lived in what is now the United States. By 1900, there were less than 300,000.

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which empowered the federal government to take Native-held land east of Mississippi and forcibly relocate Native people from their homes in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee to “Indian territory” in what is now Oklahoma. In a mass atrocity remembered as the Trail of Tears, tens of thousands of Native Americans died or were killed after fleeing their homes in terror.

The Chiricahua Apache were exiled to Arizona, and in 1876, their settlement in Arizona was claimed by government officials, forcing Native people once again to relocate further west. Tribal leader Geronimo led many Chiricahua to Mexico and organized raids into Arizona against the white settlements occupying Chiricahua land. After years of conflict, the Chiricahua surrendered in 1885 and agreed to be detained by the United States Army for two years. Instead, many were incarcerated in prisons far from their families and homeland, held as prisoners of war without charges or trial, for 27 years.

Like the Chiricahua Apache, many Native tribes resisted terror campaigns waged by white settlers and the United States military to drive them from their land, and many thousands of indigenous people were killed or imprisoned. The displacement, violence, and deaths suffered by Native Americans increasingly is being recognized as genocide.