In 1851, the US Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act, which established the reservation system to resettle Native people who were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. During the land removal process, the federal government attempted to destroy Indigenous cultures through legislation such as the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851, the Dawes Act of 1887, and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
Native people were also subjected to genocide, violence, and discriminatory policies that continue to have harmful effects on communities’ health, educational, and socioeconomic outcomes. According to the National Congress of American Indians, “Forty percent of on-reservation housing is considered substandard (compared to 6 percent outside of Indian Country) and nearly one-third of homes on reservations are overcrowded. Less than half of the homes on reservations are connected to public sewer systems, and 16 percent lack indoor plumbing. In some areas, up to 50 percent of Native homes are without phone service. Additionally, 23 percent of Native households pay 30 percent or more of household income for housing.” Many reservations also have a high unemployment rate and face disparities in health care (as was seen during the Covid-19 pandemic). Native students face lower graduation rates and college enrollment.
Not every federally recognized Tribe has a reservation. Each reservation has its own governing body and, per the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. The Native Governance Center Style Guide recommends lowercasing “reservation” unless it’s “part of a specific reservation name or referring back to the name of a specific reservation.” The terms Native nation and reservation are not interchangeable; the former refers to a political entity, while the latter refers to a Native population’s land base.
- Indian Reservations (History.com)
- Removing Native Americans From Their Land (Library of Congress)
- National Congress of American Indians (NCAI.org)
A reservation is land reserved for Indigenous peoples in the United States based on local, state, or federal laws. The terms Native nation and reservation are not interchangeable; the former refers to a political entity, while the latter refers to a Native population’s land base.