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"This war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father who came to take our land from us without price."
--Spotted Tail, "The report and journal of proceedings of the
commission appointed to obtain certain concessions
from the Sioux Indians," December 26, 1876

The history of Native Americans in North America dates back thousands of years. Exploration and settlement of the western United States by Americans and Europeans wreaked havoc on the Indian peoples living there.

In the 19th century the American drive for expansion clashed violently with the Native American resolve to preserve their lands, sovereignty, and ways of life. The struggle over land has defined relations between the U.S. government and Native Americans and is well documented in the holdings of the National Archives.

Treaty of 1868, April 29, 1868, top of page 1

The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians. In the 1868 treaty, signed at Fort Laramie and other military posts in Sioux country, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. However, after the discovery of gold there in 1874, the United States confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.

Page 2 bears the signatures of the American commissioners who represented the United States (including Lt.-Gen. William T. Sherman) , while page 3 features the names and markings of the Sioux chiefs. You can see high- resolution images of the treaty:

"Spotted Tail, a Brulé Sioux chief of great renown"
(National Archives, Still Picture Branch, 111-SC-82538 )

Until 1871 the U.S. government negotiated treaties with Indian tribes as it did with foreign powers. Many of the treaties extinguished Native Americans' title to land. Other agreements related to the pursuit and maintenance of peace, the status of tribes as dependent nations, and regulation of trade. Many of the treaties are still significant in the defense of Indian land claims, hunting and fishing rights, and tribal autonomy. U.S. treaties with Indian nations are held by the National Archives.

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Last updated: March 1996