Indian agent

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In United States history, an Indian agent was an individual authorized to interact with Native American tribes and First Nation band governments on behalf of the government.



The federal regulation of Indian affairs in the United States first included development of the position of Indian agent in 1793 under the Second Trade and Intercourse Act (or the Nonintercourse Act). This required land sales by or from Indians to be federally licensed and permitted. The legislation also authorized the president of the United States to "appoint such persons, from time to time, as temporary agents to reside among the Indians," and guide them into acculturation of American society by changing their agricultural practices and domestic activities. [1] :58 Eventually, the U.S. government ceased using the word "temporary" in the Indian agent's job title.

History, 1800–1840s

From the close of the 18th century to nearly 1869, Congress maintained the position that it was legally responsible for the protection of Indians from non-Indians, and in establishing this responsibility it "continue[d] to deal with Indian tribes by utilizing agents to negotiate treaties under the jurisdiction of the Department of War." [2]

In the 1830s, the primary role of Indian agents was to assist in commercial trading supervision between traders and Indians, while agents possessed the authority to both issue and revoke commercial trading licenses.

In 1849, the Bureau of Indian Affairs decided to place the position of Indian agent under civilian jurisdiction. This came at a time when many white Americans saw the role of Indian agent as largely inefficient and dishonest in monetary and severalty dealings with various Indian tribes. [3] :405

Mid-late 19th century

By 1850, many citizens had been calling for reform of the agents in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their wish had been granted when in 1869 the bureau created the civilian-controlled Board of Indian Commissioners. The board "never more deeply felt, that Indian agents should be appointed solely for merit and fitness for their work ... and should be retained in the service when they prove themselves to be efficient and helpful by their character and moral influence." [1] :251 This civilian run board was charged "with responsibility for supervising the disbursement of Indian appropriations" from state and federal governments. [3] :406 However, the United States Army command was extremely dissatisfied of the transfer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from the Department of War to the Department of the Interior by 1849, so they began to make public complaints about the corruptive nature of the civilian presence in the job of Indian agent. [4] Despite its deeply felt convictions that its Indian agents were appointed and removed on merit, the civilian Board of Commissioners was frequently deemed corrupt, portrayed derogatorily in print and propaganda, and inadvertently assumed the scapegoat for the perceived inefficiency of Indian-White affairs: the Indian agent.

By the late 19th century, the job title of Indian agent began to change slightly in the wake of the recent attempts to 'civilize' Indians, assimilating them into American culture. Despite the public scorn for the agents, the Indian Office stated that the "chief duty of an agent is to induce his Indian to labor in civilized pursuits. To attain this end every possible influence should be brought to bear, and in proportion as it is attained ... an agent is successful or unsuccessful." [1] :218

By the 1870s, due to president Grant's Peace Policy, the average Indian agent was primarily nominated by various Christian denominations due to the increase in civilization reforms to Indian-white affairs, especially over land. [5] Part of the Christian message of reform, carried out by the Indian agents, demonstrated the pervasive thought of Indian land ownership of the late 19th century: civilization can only be possible when Indians cease communal living in favor of private ownership. Many citizens still held the activities of Indian agents in poor esteem, calling the agents themselves "unprincipled opportunists" and people of low quality. [3] :409

End of position

When Theodore Roosevelt reached the presidency at the turn of the 20th century (1901–1909), the Indian agents that remained on the government payroll were all replaced by school superintendents. [1] :257

Notable Indian agents

Bust of Benjamin Hawkins 15 28 051 hawkins.jpg
Bust of Benjamin Hawkins

Distinguished individuals who have served as Indian agents include the following:

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Prucha, Francis Paul (1984). The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  2. Brown, Shana. "Outline of Indian Affairs" (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 Unrau, William E. (October 1972). "The Civilian as Indian Agent: Villain or Victim?". Western Historical Quarterly. 3 (4): 405–420. doi:10.2307/966865. JSTOR   966865.
  4. Chaput, Donald (July 1972). "Generals, Indian Agents, Politicians: The Doolittle Survey of 1865". Western Historical Quarterly. 3 (3): 269. doi:10.2307/967424. JSTOR   967424.
  5. Castile, George P. (April 1981). "Edwin Eells, U.S. Indian Agent, 1871-1895". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 72 (2): 62. JSTOR   40490672.
  6. National Archives. "Indian Census Roles, 1885-1940". Legal and Administrative Background: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  7. "The Life of Kit Carson, Hunter, Trapper, Guide, Indian Agent, and Colonel U.S.A." By Edward Sylvester Ellis, 1899 G.M. Hill
  8. "Benjamin Hawkins, Indian Agent" By Merritt B. Pound, 2009 University of Georgia Press
  9. "Prairie Man: The Struggle between Sitting Bull and Indian Agent James McLaughlin" By Norman E. Matteoni, 2015 Rowman & Littlefield
  10. "Indian agent and wilderness scholar: the life of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft" by Richard G. Bremer, 1987 Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University
  11. Hutton, Paul A. (September 1978). "William Wells: Frontier Scout and Indian Agent". Indiana Magazine of History. 74 (3): 189. JSTOR   27790311.

Works cited