The history between Native Americans and the United States has been very rocky. Many tribes sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. They did not trust the American colonists. The Native Americans worried that they would lose their land.

After the United States won independence, it signed treaties with the tribes. A treaty is a deal. Both sides agree to obey it. The treaties with Native Americans were about land. They explained which land belonged to the tribes. They also said how much the government would pay for taking tribal land.

Land Treaties Remain Today

Many land treaties remain today. One is the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868. It was signed by the U.S. government and the Lakota tribe. In it, the government promised land to the Lakota. The area included the Black Hills, a small chain of mountains in South Dakota. The Black Hills are very special to the Lakota.

Then gold was found in the Black Hills. The United States tried to buy back the land, but the Lakota said no. This led to the Black Hills War (1876-1877). One of the war's most famous battles happened along the Little Bighorn River (June 25-26, 1876). General George A. Custer led a group of soldiers against the Lakota. Custer and his men were killed. The battle became known as Custer's Last Stand.

Lakota Tribe Wants Land Back

The United States continued to fight the Lakota. Finally, it took back the Black Hills in 1877. The Lakota sued. The tribe said the land had been taken from them. The U.S. Supreme Court is the country's top court. In 1980 it agreed with the Lakota and ordered the government to pay the tribe for the land. As of 2018, the government owes the Lakota about $1 billion. This is a lot of money but the tribe will not take it because they still want the land back. 

In 1830, the United States passed a new law. It let the government move Native Americans off their tribal land and settle them elsewhere. Thousands of Native Americans lost their land. They were forced from their homes. The government moved them far away. It was a very sad time for Native Americans.

In 1887, the U.S. government passed another law. It let the government divide tribal land into small lots for members. Sometimes not all of the tribal land was used. So, the government bought it back. Then it sold the land to white settlers. Native Americans lost a lot of land because of the law. A new law in 1934 stopped the practice.

In 1975, a new law gave tribes the right to self-govern. They could run their own schools, too.

The United States Government’s Relationship with Native Americans

The Treaty of Ft. Laramie of 1868 "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Black Hills for the Lakota Nation. But the discovery of gold in the area ultimately led to the treaty's annulment and the Black Hills War. Here, a delegation from the Lakota Nation visited Washington, D.C., after another conflict between the Lakota and the U.S., the Wounded Knee Massacre of Dec. 29, 1890.


process by which people acquire the culture and habits of the dominant group.


having to do with a nation's government (as opposed to local or regional government).


group of people, usually elected, who make and change laws.


land in the U.S. reserved for the political, cultural, and physical use of Native American tribes and nations.


transportation of people to a new residential area, usually following a natural or man-made disaster.

sovereign nation

independent state with control over its own territory.


official agreement between groups of people.


community made of one or several family groups sharing a common culture.