“Kill The Indian, Save The Man”

“Kill the Indian, Save The Man,” is an anti-Indian, Federal Government slogan that was used to justify multiple atrocities to the indigenous people of America, the First People. In my essay, I discuss: what it means to be Indigenous to the U.S., what it means to be American in the U.S., define anti-Indianism and the Euro-American Indian Problem, the development of America’s economy through trade, treaties, and federal legislation, and end with the Era of Self-Determination and Tribal Sovereignty.


Indications of Anti-Indianism are as follows: that which exploits and distorts Indian culture and beliefs, the use of dissatisfying historical events and experiences to lay blame on Indians, that which denigrates, demonizes, and insults being Indian in America, anything in history and literature that does not invest itself in Indian audiences, the attitude that suggests Indian Nationhood should be disavowed and devalued, that which treats Indians and their tribes as though they don’t exist, and finally, that which causes unnatural deaths or injuries to Indians due to these attitudes. Even the word ‘Indian’ was used to displace the First people from their own origins, or perhaps the Euro-Americans were too lazy to bother learning anything about them other than growing and hunting their food.

Since the arrival of Columbus, approximately 90% of the Indigenous populations in America have died of unnatural causes, with the highest fatalities due to smallpox, which was also used as germ warfare for the first time in our Nation’s history, against Native Americans. When the Indian Problem wasn’t annihilated by disease and warfare, patronizing treaties for land and resources were imposed or “negotiated” and Indians were given Reservations, referred to by the San Carlos Apache as an “operational concentration camp.” It didn’t take long for the Federal Government to start eroding tribal sovereignty by legislation in the form of Acts.

The Federal Government was not entirely successful with their ‘Kill The Indian, Save The Man’ policy, due to: the Nationhood recognizance of treaties and to the Indian Reform of the 1920’s, more prominently in 1933 with John Collier as Indian Commissioner. There was only so much federal legislation could do, even though they attempted, and still attempt, to do their worst. Of course, the Federal Government is simply the arm of a bigger problem, the European Problem.

Europe was mainly busy creating a network of connections for roughly three hundred years between the 16th and 18th centuries. Those connections were fruitful to the dominant party while the one being taken over would have to assume a new role to meet the European need. And while the “New Americans” were busy fighting for their freedoms away from their own domineering nation, they seemed pretty comfortable using the same inhumane and unjust tactics with the Native Americans.

Indian Problem

Before we get to the Euro-American’s Indian Problem and how they tried to solve it, we must first ask; what does it mean to be Indigenous, to be Native American, and furthermore, what does it mean to be Indigenous within the U.S.?

  • To be Indigenous is to be the first people native to their place of origin.
  • To be Indigenous to America (Native American) is to be spiritually tied to the earth through the theory of origin within the landscape of a tribe’s surroundings, to be matrilineal, to make collective decision-making, to have a direct democracy, to have a traditional society represented by dress, language, and customs, to live as a collective extended family, are non-materialistic, and non-exploitative of their home.

Now that we know what it is to be Indigenous and Indigenous to America, we need to discover the root of the Euro-American’s Indian Problem defining what they wanted the term ‘American’ to be.

  • To be American is to be individualistic, patrilineal, materialistic, to have a ‘God given right’ to exploit and develop the land, to be in control of the landscape and everything within it, to be competitive, to demonstrate a healthy selfishness, to be Christian, to own land, to be ‘civilized,’ to have ‘rights,’ and to uphold a new and modern society.

Finally, we can get to what it means to be Indigenous within the U.S., which takes us into the subject of treaties. A treaty represents an agreement between two sovereign nations. While treaties have been used by America as a means of slow destruction to Native Americans, the pro to this con is the legalities of the very definition of the word ‘treaty.’ By demonstrating the power of equal footing of Tribal Nations to the new American Government, there is a semblance of power given in the courts when making decisions on cases effecting tribal nations today. Through legislation this sovereignty has been chipped at by means of withholding required and negotiated necessities, obviously an illegal activity by the Federal Government and its agents. Sovereignty is also broken down by judicial rulings in favor of America’s economy over sacred sites, religious rights, and human rights.

  • To be Indigenous within the United States is to be a descendant of the original inhabitants of a territory where conquest and assimilation has not fully developed, to not have centralized political institutions but instead have organization at a community level where decisions are consensual, have characteristics of a national minority: share a common language, religion, culture, and have a relationship to the territory, but are subjugated by a dominant culture and society, and continue to be a dependent Nation.

In the beginning of this thesis, the case for the foundation of the new America’s ideals was made through anti-Indianism and one of its many facets, the Indian Problem. But there was a timeline of events and many variables that brought Indian Policy to where it is now, ranging from; the first contacts of trading, effects of warfare, establishment of treaties, effects of European disease on tribes, and lastly, the effects of Federal Legislation on land, resources, tribal structure, and tribal power. How did America create its wealth and economy? At what cost and to whom? And did America fully succeed?

Developing America’s Economy

  1. The Fur Trade

North America had become the center of European competition for resources during the Market Period, around the late 1600’s. Native Americans were wanted for fur trade, which incorporated them into the competitive system of European politics. Trading began an erosion of a traditional way of life by incorporating imported goods, promoting materialism, promoting deadly competitiveness between tribes, as well as alcoholism. Perhaps what is most shocking are the journals of French Traders describing the disastrous effects of alcohol on Natives as they looked on.

During this time, tribes had become dependent on imported food and lost touch with their traditional way of life; they began to exploit their animals that were sacred and hunted European-sought-species to near extinction. Fur wasn’t the only commodity, albeit the biggest, there was also tobacco, gold, pearls, deer hides, and guides for expeditions, but a change started to occur.

The times of pelt fashion had changed and European demands diminished. The settlers had learned the ways of hunting, trapping, and surveying the lands from the Natives and started to edge them out of the New American economy. As the numbers of settlers dramatically increased and profitability from exports of tobacco and hides expanded, friendship with the Natives was no longer needed, but their land was. The New Americans, feeling compelled by equal footing, began religious persecution and battles for land from around 1670 with the Puritans, all the way to 1877 with Custer and the United States Army for the Black Hills Gold vein. Everyone has heard of Black Hills gold but no one associates it with the murder and land stealing of the Lakota on the Great Sioux Reservation do they? Dispossession and exclusion was just the beginning.

2. Aggression, Treaties, and Disease

Treaties had been established as far back as 1763 (for monopolized fur trade of the north) up until 1871, when Congress passed a Bill declaring treaty-making would no longer be necessary as Indian Nations were no longer recognized as Independent Nations. By the time the Natives decided to fight back, it was too late, settlements had been strategically built around the local tribe areas, in advantageous locations; for tribes to join together and fight would be nearly impossible.

The European diseases were advantageous as well; the deathly speed of smallpox had wiped out 90% of Native population, as well as, Tuberculosis, The Plague, and Influenza, in three different surges. Once the Natives fatality rates to disease was known to the new Americans, they used it to their advantage with germ warfare, most notably in Pontiac’s Uprising from 1763-69. Entire tribes were wiped out due to disease and young warriors were dying due to war; eradicating Native population from the millions to around a mere two hundred thousand by the 1830’s. Just imagine that if you can. If the United States dwindled to two hundred thousand people. That’s near extinction.

But the Indian Problem was still not solved, just modified to better control numbers for the New Americans and the Federal Government. While Native population was down, further attacks on Native land in the form of Federal Legislation was feeding the New American economy under the guise of ‘Federal Protection’ from America’s own States; the State Militia, and the gold fever, Native murdering settlers within them, all throughout the 1800’s.  It became apparent to the Federal Government that Natives “needed” the Federal Legislation to make decisions for them in a Ward/Guardian relationship when it came to their own land. These decisions were never in favor of Natives, they were always in favor of miners, settlers, and future homesteaders. These new legislations stole nearly 2/3 of Native lands.

3. Federal Legislation

Federal Legislation had disastrous effects, from: Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823, the Termination of Indians in 1953, and even the Reorganization Period which was thought to be just another way to infiltrate and assimilate, only ‘peacefully.’ The purpose, motive, and consequence for each Federal Act of significance to the ‘Kill The Indian, Save The Man’ policy is listed as follows:

  • Indian Removal Act of 1830

The cause of the Indian Removal Act was the illegal surveying of land resources and the finding of a gold vein, which would significantly contribute to Georgia’s economy. Chief Justice Marshall presided over the Supreme Court case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, and ruled that Federal Government had legal guardianship over Indian affairs and that the state of Georgia had authorization to remove Indians from their land. The entire case negated a legal and binding treaty that stipulated the land was the Natives.

A severe blow to Tribal Sovereignty occurred in 1837 when Congress passed legislation to terminate direct payment to Indian Nations for land sold to the United States and decided to keep it in the Treasury for the U.S. to spend on Natives behalf.

The Indian Removal Act set the standard for inhumane treatment of thousands of Natives and tribes. Notably, the inhumane treatment of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, among many others, was extreme. The Trail of Tears started in winter and lasted for five months, spanning 2,200 miles, after Indians were held in military stockades living and dying among famine and disease. At the minimum, 8,000 Native Americans died at the hands of the United States.

The horrifying treatment during the Navajo’s own Long Walks starting in 1864 took place after Kit Carson’s Scorched earth Campaign. There were over 50 walks and over 11,000 Navajo (including pregnant women, the elderly, and children) who literally walked from sunrise to sunset for over 300 miles through the scorching desert and the Rio Grande river to Fort Sumner and an uninhabitable Reservation named Bosque Redondo. If they could not keep up, they were shot in the head. If a woman was induced into labor from stress, she was shot in the head. Once there, thousand died from starvation and disease. The Indian Removal Act was an American economic success.

Preceding the Indian Removal Act was a critical Supreme Court case in 1823, Johnson v. McIntosh. The purpose was to keep land from being transferred out of Native’s hands, by stipulating their motive; that Natives could not “sell” their land to non-Indians because all tribal land now belonged to the United States. Indians were merely given a right of occupancy, not ownership. However, the United States (through federal legislation) could sell tribal land to non-Indians as they saw fit.

Johnson v. McIntosh marked the start of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Office or Service, in the War Department in 1824. The authority was passed to the Secretary of the Interior in 1849, as the War Department was no longer needed to deal with the Natives.

By 1871 Congress passed their “No Treaty” Bill, a declaration of non-independent Nation status onto tribes.

  • The General Allotment Act of 1887

The Federal Government had run into a problem; there were no more places to relocate Indians. Reservations and their acreage had been established and the reasonable next step was assimilation by means of cultural genocide to get them working for America’s economy. The two main points for the General Allotment Act were 1) Communal land was savage and by owning land as an individual in the white christian way would create pride, self-interest, and a healthy selfishness which would lead to the Christianization and civilization of the Indians, and 2) The GAA would make it easier for the United States to acquire tribal land from an individual rather than dealing with the whole tribe.

The General Allotment Act of 1887 defrauded 90 million acres of tribal land in 47 years, from 1887 to 1934 (138 million acres to 48 million). An amendment in 1891 gave the Secretary of the Interior additional powers to lease out any land allotments as they saw fit, meaning the Federal Government stole land from Indians who were not using their land properly by federal ideals.

Indian identification standards were then set up by the Federal Government in order to distribute communal Indian lands back to individual Indians. The motive for this Indian identification was that a blood quantum minimum of 1/4 would eventually cease to exist due to assimilation, thereby solving the Indian Problem once and for all and completing the acquisition of Indian lands to the United States.

  • The Indian Reorganization of 1930

The early 1900’s spawned Reformers for Indian social-justice and progressivism. A 1922 Congress case for claims to Pueblo lands in New Mexico started a fierce uprising, ranging from a Women’s Club, the American Indian Defense Association, to the New York Times, and peaked interest on injustices to Indians. In 1926, due to severe criticism, the Secretary of the Interior requested a government report on American Indian social and economic conditions, which took two years to survey.

The Miriam Report of 1928, directed by Lewis Miriam, listed the extent of poverty, poor health, and lack of education and organization. It also included a declaration of what kind of desolate lands they were living on. The Miriam Report proposed new ideas and efforts to be made for stabilization of health and education while protecting property rights.

John Collier, who had twenty years of community organizing and social welfare experience, was appointed Indian Commissioner in 1933 until 1945. Collier, who had been Executive Secretary of the American Indian Defense Association and had protested for Indian rights in the 1920’s, had drastic ideologies for reorganization. One of his ideals was to teach Native History and culture courses for Indian Schools and to provide special training to Indians so they could organize their community.

While the ideals of the original Indian Reorganization Act were diluted by the Secretary, yet again (despite their intentions) Indians were being forced to Reform. However, it re-established the ability to be art of the decision-making process after one hundred years.

Out of Reform came two formative and incorporative processes: Indianization and Tribalization. They reorganized relations between groups and larger systems of society. More importantly it demanded recognizance and small powers to the American Indian, even though the structure was a mirror of the Federal System.

Indianization is the recent 20th century growth of a supratribal consciousness as a politically self-conscious population, “American Indians.” Tribalization refers to the process in which tribes came to be the political organism of today, dating back to the origin of incorporation. Not all tribes wanted to be a part of these processes, and fragmentation occurred: the experiential concept that reorganization could be used against them, division among multiple tribes occupying one location but having to act as one tribe, fear of further federal control, and fear of further loss of land.

  • Public Law 280 of 1953- Termination

The Public Law 280 Bill was introduced as a way for Indians to be “free” and to be “productive citizens;” this affected the tribes within California, Florida, New York, and Texas. Public Law 280 made Indian land available to the public, ended tribal jurisdiction, state legislation and judicial jurisdiction was imposed, state taxes were imposed, Indian Federal programs for tribes and individuals discontinued, and Tribal Sovereignty ended.

The motive for Public Law 280 was very apparent; the Federal Government gets to keep monies rightfully owed to natives and Indian land is put back inot the American economy. The effects were more personal for the Natives on the land by: loss of jobs, loss of rights, loss of financial help (since the United States tool away their right to live independently), loss of medical help, and the loss of the only home they had left.

By 1958, Termination was ended by the Secretary of the Interior, a product of vast protests by White Liberals, Indian Nationalists, and Americans whose programs were being tapped for the aid of Indians. President Nixon’s speech in 1970 made a declaration to terminate any ideas of such policies in the future.

Self-Determination Era- 1960 to Present

The 1960’s brought The Area Redevelopment Act that gave Native Americans the chance to develop their land to help end poverty, while still receiving aid from the Federal Government. Of course, this would only work if they had profitable resources on their Reservation. In 1964 the Economic Opportunity Act, an anti-poverty program, was passed to employ tribally created community organizing. This Act presented a slight release from federal supervision. Many Acts followed throughout the 1970’s, such as; The Indian Education Act of 1972, The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, and the American Indian Policy Review Commission of 1974.

Great strides were and are being made, but are all creations of Indian legislation a form of assimilation? Or is this form of survival paving the way to full Tribal Sovereignty somewhere in the future? The ‘Kill The Man, Save The Indian’ policy didn’t complete its work according to the federal plan, and the Natives might not fully go back to their roots; but one ideal is certain among humankind, and that’s the principal in the ideology of humanity and all the rights that are attached to that concept. Native Americans deserve that right like any other American in these Unites States.

-M.D. “Kill The Indian, Save The Man.” 2008.


Cornell, Stephen. The Return of the Native.” 1988.

Meranto, Dr. Zia J. The Other American Governments.” 2014.

Film: 500 Nations. By Jack Leustig. 1994.

(3,155 words)