Policing American Indians: a Unique Chapter in American Jurisprudence

Authors

  • Laurence Armand French

Abstract

The ever changing landscape of Indian Country in the United States involving treaties, removal, allotment, termination/relocation and eventually a degree of “self-determination extends from the colonial era to the mid-1970s (French, 1994). During this time an internal battle raged between military and civilian authorities over who would manage Indian County (Sheehan, 1974; Stephanson, 1995).  Racist leaders prevailed in both camps with generals like Sheridan, Sherman, Crook, and (brevet) Custer eager to hunt down Indians deemed “renegades.” They competed with often corrupt politically-appointed Indian Agents and/or condescending religious zealots for control over the spoils that could be gained from federal contracts awarded for the care of Indian tribes forced (incarcerated) onto reservations that were virtually concentration/internment camps.  Included in this mix were agent provocateurs eager to ignite hostilities between Indians and whites, including those intruding into the so-called protected tribal domains in Indian Country.  Neither the U.S. Army nor the Indian Agents were interested in preserving the traditional cultures of the tribes they oversaw. Indeed, the U.S. Army was bent on physical genocide while their civilian counterparts were engaged in cultural genocide.  The idea of accepting American Indian culture and traditions as equal to those of the dominant white society was destroyed with Removal of the Five Civilized Tribes in the 1830s, a process that continued until the 20 th century and with new ramifications in the 1950s under Termination and Relocation (French, 2007; Jahoda, 1975).  The use of Indian scouts by the U.S. Army and Indian police by civilian agents emerged during the second half of the 19 th century, during the second phase of the U.S. Indian Wars – 1855-1890 (Stewart, 2001).

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