Land and water rights

Europeans that arrived in the New World were met with indigenous tribes of Native Indians. The tribes had lived on the continent for thousands of years.

These tribes had completely different ideas when it came to land ownership. Europeans believed people could own land, whereas the Native Indians believed that all land belonged to everyone.

This difference in philosophy prompted many wars and problems as it came to land and water rights for Native Indians.

Throughout the settlement time in what would eventually be the United States, the settlers and various government representatives have signed many different treaties and pacts with Native Indians giving them specific land and water areas.

Time and time again, those treaties were broken by the white people, and it didn’t matter how many objected, protested, or even fought back, they continued to break agreements.

Early colonial settlements did not share the Native Indian ideas of respect for the land. Their desire for building towns and expanding into farming led them to continued expansion into areas that were part of the Native villages and hunting areas. As they continued to encroach into these habitats, the Natives moved further and further away.

  • In 1747 a treaty was written and agreed upon with the Cherokee so that it opened up territories for them. In areas that were British controlled, there was an arrangement with the settlers under the “headright grant” that allowed the transfer of land grant titles. In the colonial period, these land grants encroached on Native Indian lands.
  • One of the reasons that the white settlers disrespected the rights of the Native Indian tribes is that they viewed them as backward and barbaric.
  • In 1798 the U.S. federal government started a policy of allotting Indian land. There had been a lot of treaties signed with the individual tribes. Allotments were designed to encourage Native Indians to begin looking at the land that they lived on in the same ownership way that the settlers looked at it.
  • The allotment was thought to be a reason for Native tribes to remain in one location and cultivate their land. This was part of a philosophy that was shared by white settlers but not understood by Native Indians. The white colonists looked to land ownership as an act of civilized people.
  • Other ideas shared by white immigrants and settlers was that the Native Indians had far too much land for their purposes. As expansion continued, much of the land and water rights were needed by white settlers for mining, forestry, building new towns, and other industries.
  • Allotment differed from white settler land ownership in that the settlers could sell their land. Native Indians were thought to be too “incompetent” to have any kind of land transaction. Instead, any changes would be handled by the Native Indian land affairs with the U.S. government retaining legal rights to the land title as a trustee for the allottee (Native Indian). To translate this, it means that the Native Indians could use the land but couldn’t sell it without the approval of the U.S. government. Allotments did give the Native Indians the ability to have full land ownership 25 years after the allotment.
  • Native Indian lands were slowly taken and given to the white settlers. Treaties were made and broken to the point that Native Indians were forced to live on designation reservations.


What philosophical difference did Native Indians have from Europeans in regard to land?

Native Indians didn’t believe in personal land ownership

In 1747 the government created the “headright grant” agreement with what Native Indian tribe?


Why were Native Indians forbidden to sell their own land in the allotment arrangement?

the government thought Native Indians were incompetent

As almost all treaties with Native Indians were broken, where did the Indians have to move?


Why did the government think allotments were are a good idea for Native Indians?

they thought it would encourage them to be more like them in land ownership ideas

Why did settlers disrespect Native Indians?

they thought they were backward and barbaric