ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING 5: LAND AND TREATIES
Reservations are lands that have been reserved by the federal government for tribes for their own use through treaties, statutes and executive orders and were not “given” to them. The principle that land should be acquired from the Indians only through their consent with treaties involved three assumptions:
I. Both parties to treaties were sovereign powers.
II. Indian tribes had some form of transferable title to the land.
III. Acquisition of Indian lands was solely a government matter not to be left to individual colonists.
Indian tribes hold over 50 million acres of land, approximately 2% of the United States. The largest reservation is the Navajo Nation, which is a large as West Virginia. Some reservations are as small as a few acres, and some tribes hold no land at all.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1823 that Indian nations may only cede, sell or relinquish the lands they use and occupy to the U.S. federal government. They may not cede, sell or relinquish the lands they use and occupy to individuals, to states or to foreign governments. Johnson v. M'lntosh, 2 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543 (1823). This was done by treaty through 1871 after which time it was done through Congressional action.
Indian tribes located in the Colorado Territory prior to the passage of the Colorado Constitution in 1876 held large land bases as negotiated through their treaties with the United States. The treaties assigned tribes to certain areas and obligated them to respect the land of their neighbors. However, in the 1860s, as miners and others rushed into the prime gold fields that often lay along or within the designated tribal lands, tribal life was disrupted. The new inhabitants demanded federal protection. These demands resulted in the eventual relocation of the tribes to smaller and smaller reserves.
The federal government and many Colorado citizens did not understand the lifestyles of Colorado’s Indian tribes. Consequently, the tribes were often dealt with from non-Indian expectations and points of view. However, the federal government did understand that these tribal groups were sovereign nations and that they needed to enter into treaty negotiations with the tribes.
MAP OF FOUR CORNER STATES AREA SHOWING UTE INDIAN ABORIGINAL LANDS
The Seven Ute Indian Bands and Original Ute Indian Territory
MAP OF COLORADO SHOWING PRESENT SOUTHERN UTE INDIAN AND UTE MOUNTAIN UTE TRIBE RESERVATIONS (Green dots represent other areas of aboriginal tribal lands.)
1895 through Present-Day Ute Reservations of Colorado