Native American Resistance: Tecumseh

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Manifest destiny. The belief that settlers had a God-given power and were destined to expand and move across North America. This idea is present throughout American history, and was mainly used by white settlers to justify their actions towards Native Americans, who were forcibly removed from their land due to the settlers’ thirst for land expansion. Throughout the course of a few centuries, the indigenous people have carried out many attempts to resist and halt the settlers from seizing their land as they moved westward.

One of the tribes that resisted the expansion were the Shawnee Indians, who resided in Ohio and its surrounding states. As the settlers began to make their way towards the west, they came into conflict with the natives who were already occupying the land, and “Many of the settlers were angry and distressed when the national government under the Articles of Confederation proved unable to protect them against the people being displaced”(Greenberg, 29). Since the central government at the time lacked the ability to partake in compromises, the outrage of the settlers eventually led to violent confrontations with many Native American tribes. In order to combat the settlers and their yearning for land, the Shawnee tribe, led by two brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, sought to revive their culture and unite the indigenous tribes so they could resist encroachment by the settlers. The more well known brother, Tecumseh, was a political and military leader who refused to take part in the peace negotiations that led to the creation of the Treaty of Greenville of 1795, which was a treaty between the United States and Indians of the Northwest territory that changed the official boundaries of the land in the area which ultimately gave the white settlers more land. Unhappy with the negotiations that were taking place, Tecumseh ended up moving to Indiana to lead his own group of militant fighters. In addition to Tecumseh’s leadership skills, his younger brother Tenskwatawa came up with the vision that led to the social movement by combining their traditional native ideals with those of Christian beliefs to create a pan-Indian resistance. The two followed traditionalist ideals which promoted native purity by refusing to come in contact with the whites and, “Advocated for all natives to resist the taking of their land by whites and to reject their way of life” (Do). Tenskwatawa believed that in order to restore their land, the natives had to bind together and avoid any contact with the white settlers as well as abandoning their ways, which included consuming alcohol, owning private property, and etc.

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Throughout the 18th century, the Shawnee joined a variety of alliances in attempts to protect their land and warriors were sent out in groups to raid and destroy the settler’s settlements in hopes to drive them away. As the Indian alliance gained traction, they founded their own village named Prophetstown and were able to secure not only economic, but also military support from the British in Canada, which made them an even bigger threat to the U.S. government. However, during the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, the Shawnee and their town were destroyed by General William Henry Harrison. Despite their many efforts to become united, the indigenous people’s fight to resist the settlers and their way of life ended in 1813 when Tecumseh died at the Battle of the Thames.

The Cherokee Indians resided in the southeast region of the country and were another tribe that resisted the expansion of the United States. As white settlers with European ancestry started trickling into the territory that belonged to the Cherokee, the colonial governments nearby began ordering them to surrender their land. By the time the Revolutionary War was over, the Cherokees were forced to give up over half of their original land to the new governments. They were urged to change their lifestyles by abandoning practices such as hunting and adopting the way the white settlers lived, because “European Americans considered native ways to be distinctly inferior to their own; these whites believed that Indians should dress, pray, and work according to “white” standards”(Jones, 227). The Cherokees embraced this idea and began to ratify their practices, even creating their own syllabary to become literate in their own language, however they were still seen as inferior by the white settlers.

When the War of 1812 ended, the federal government became more pressured to eradicate the Cherokees from their land. In response to the U.S. government’s continuous efforts to seize their land, the Cherokees warned the settlers that they would turn down any requests to give up their land and went as far as creating a law in their own constitution that made it illegal to sell national land, which made it even harder for the land to be taken. After this law was set in place, the Georgian government began to make laws of their own in an attempt to abolish the Cherokees’ laws and government. When Andrew Jackson won the presidency in 1828, he made it a national objective to remove eastern tribes and thus, the Indian Removal Act that was passed in 1830 made it possible for the president to be able to arrange removal treaties. In 1831, the Cherokees won a court case against the United States that recognized them as their own nation with protection from the U.S. Furthermore, it was proven in another court case that Georgia had violated the tribe’s special treaty with the country, however, President Jackson refused to accept that the Cherokees were a dependent nation of their own and continued to make efforts to remove them from their land. The Treaty of New Echota was unknowingly signed without the authorization of the Cherokee government in 1835, which led to a series of events that would relocate the tribe forever. The majority of the tribe protested to no avail and in 1838, the Cherokees were inevitably rounded up and taken away on what would be known as the Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory where they would live with compensation from the government.  

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