Under the first 6 U.S. Presidents, the general policy towards Indians was to allow them to remain east of the Mississippi River as long as they took up lives similar to settlers such as farming, and remained peaceful even though their lands were being taken away. That policy changed under the Presidency of Andrew Jackson who signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, in spite of the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had decided in the Marshall cases that tribes had rights to self-govern within their territories where state laws had no force. Removing Indians from their homelands east of the Mississippi River and placing them on Indian reservations west of the River became a major policy of the United States for the next 60 years. Thousands of Indians died in the forced marches to the west, the most famous of which was the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

As Indians were moved west, lands were set aside for them in the form of reservations mainly through treaties, Congressional Acts, or Executive Orders. A reservation is an area of land held in trust by the United States government, for the use, possession, and benefit of an Indian tribe which is occupied by the Indian tribe. Within the reservations, tribes exercised their sovereignty (authority to govern).  There are some limitations placed on tribes by virtue of the fact that they are within the boundaries of the United States such as they can not go to war, mint their own money, or enter into a treaty on their own with another country. Congress can further limit their authority as for example, through the General Crimes Act which extended federal jurisdiction onto an Indian reservation when a non-Indian person was involved in a crime.

Russian, then much later, American settlers went to Alaska and the land use patterns were much different than they were in the Lower 48. There was no equivalent to the Indian removal except for the tragic removal of the Aleut people from the Pribilof Islands and Aleutians during World War II to internment camps located in Southeast Alaska. Alaska did however have many Indian reservations and reserves established, under congressional statute, executive order, public purpose designation, and under the Indian Reorganization Act. All but one reservation, Metlakatla, were terminated by the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.


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