Reservation House Room

Reservation House Room

The Reservation House Room simulates a portion of a small reservation house typical of the homes inhabited by Northeastern Native Peoples in the early 1900s. As of the 2000 Census, there were 2,475,956 Native Americans in the United States. Of that number, 437,079 American Indians, 182 Eskimos and 97 Aleuts were residing on 314 reservations and trust lands. Indian reservation systems in America actually began under British colonial rule and Connecticut holds a place of distinction in reservation history. One of the oldest reservations was the Quinnipiac reservation established in 1638/1639 (no longer in existence) while the oldest continuous reservation in the United States is the Paugussett Reservation at Golden Hill, established in 1659, and is still a viable tribal community today.

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The Federal Indian Reservation system was founded at almost the same time as the United States itself. Congress established Indian reservations by federal treaty or statute after 1778, granting title to recognized tribes over lands they occupied and also rights to the resources within their boundaries. Unfortunately, government promises of protection in exchange for land cessions were not faithfully honored. On March 3, 1849 Congress created the Department of the Interior to manage public land, Indian land and Indian affairs. The Indian Office moved quickly to consolidate Native American societies through a series of treaties, coercion and military force. Through questionable treaty making tactics, the United States government acquired millions of acres of Indian land and relegated the tribes to reservations which occupied only a small fraction of their former territory. By the 1920s, most tribes had lost the ability to control their resources and continued to lose valuable reservation assets. Indian lands decreased from 136 million acres in 1887 to about 48 million acres in 1934. Throughout the history of reservations, until new legislation in the 1970s, a government appointed white overseer was the only person who could access tribal funds. The overseer had such complete control over daily reservation life and monies that simple things, such as grocery lists, required his approval.

In 1928, a nationwide study sponsored by the Indian Office, found that reservation life was plagued by endemic poverty, ill health, poor education and social and economic dependency. Eventually, in 1934, new legislation was enacted to redress some of the problems plaguing Indian reservations. The Indian Reorganization Act (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act or informally, the Indian New Deal) included a reversal of the Dawes Act which called for the privatization of common holdings of American Indian lands in an attempt to de-tribalize indigenous nations. The Indian Reorganization Act however, promoted local self-government by indigenous tribes. The Act also restored to Native Americans the management of their assets, primarily land, and included provisions intended to create a sound economic foundation for reservation inhabitants. Between 1935 and 1937, over 2 million acres of land reverted back to Indian holdings. Tribes also regained control of 7 million acres of leased grazing lands. Despite these legislative advances, efforts continue today to de-tribalize Native communities that have been recognized since Colonial times.

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Missionary Influence On Reservations
In an effort to "civilize" and Christianize Indians, Euro-American religious groups established missionaries among the various Indigenous populations. Many Native people did eventually adopt Christianity for reasons often more socio-political than spiritual. Native leaders were quick to realize that the acceptance of Christianity was a major survival strategy for indigenous communities. The presence of a white authority figure in the form of a minister in their midst helped protect Indian peoples from the discrimination and criminal acts of unscrupulous white folk, such as illegal land sales and encroachment upon tribal reserved lands, illegal sale of liquor to tribal members, vandalism of tribal property and other life-threatening acts.

Missions also provided schools for learning English language, law and customs which enabled Indian communities to understand the English legal system and to work within the English market system after their Native economies had been destroyed by white economic and political actions. A more immediate economic reason was that "Christian" Indians often received food, clothing and other supplies from missionary societies; often ministers paid Natives to attend their church services. Thus, conversion to Christianity by no means equated with the leaving of tribal relations and assimilation into white society. Much more often it was a tribal survival strategy to preserve the tribal community or it was forced on Native children who were taken from their families and placed in religious schools sanctioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Among the most prevalent and successful missionaries were the Jesuits and the Moravians, who were unique in that they demonstrated an ability to accept and respect the Native American culture. They were quite successful in the 1740s gaining Mahican, Wappinger and Schaghticoke converts in eastern New York and northwestern CT. There was a Moravian mission and school at the Schaghticoke reservation in Kent, CT and another mission at the Mahican village of Wechquadnach in western Sharon, CT.

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Making A Living
In the early part of the 20th century, the federal government prohibited any type of economic activity other than agriculture on Indian reservations. Unfortunately, much of the land relegated to Indian peoples was unsuitable for cultivation, forcing many Native people to seek employment outside tribal lands. Many became day laborers; some women became washerwomen, taking in Euro-American clothes for laundering. Among the local Schaghticoke tribe, many individuals, such as Value Kilson, Truman Bradley and George Coggswell, became colliers (charcoal manufacturers). Henry Harris, a noted basket-maker, was also a tinsmith and gunsmith, who repaired guns, pans and other ironware for the local white population. His son, James Harris, another noted basket-maker, became a postman and minister preaching to a congregation of both Native and non-Native parishioners at a Bull's Bridge church.

For young Native American men who wanted to leave the reservation, military service was always an attractive option. Like their forefathers who steadfastly defended tribal hunting grounds, modern Native Americans still defend their homelands, the United States of America. Native Americans have served in every American war and conflict. It is well-recognized that, historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups with nearly 190,000 Native American military veterans.

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