The Relation of the New York Indians to the United States

Third session,
Thursday morning, October 17.

The president, Dr. Merrill E. Gates, introduced Mr. Philip C. Garrett, of Pennsylvania, chairman of the special commission named by Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, when governor of New York, to investigate the condition of the New York Indians.

The Relation Of The New York Indians To The United States.
By Philip C. Garrett.

The beautiful State of New York, among other picturesque objects, is decorated by a lot of old time Indian reservations, scattered across and through the length and breadth of the State from Long Island, in the southeast to the St. Lawrence River, where the St. Regis Indians are, through the lake valleys in the center to almost within sight of Niagara, and to Lake Erie and along the beautiful valley of the Allegheny, in the southwest. Those who have attended these sessions will remember that years ago the condition of these reservations was a source of interest and discussion. Bishop Huntington first brought it to the attention of the conference. He had found at his door south of Syracuse, the Onondaga Reservation, one of the most backward of them all, still maintaining barbarous rites of worship. He was much scandalized by the condition of things there and the injury it caused to the surrounding country. Judge Draper, then superintendent of schools of the State of New York, made a powerful address here against them. From that time to this, the topic has claimed more or less attention, and the reservation system has received the condemnation of intelligent people throughout the State and country. The Indians insist on retaining pagan worship, about half of them being pagans with their old rites. Some of these are regarded as objectionable by those who know most about them. These reservations are like scars on the beautiful territory of this State. They are imperia in imperio; they are foreign countries in the midst of the State of New York. They ought to be removed.

Last year, while Mr. Roosevelt was still governor of New York, a citizen wrote to him, calling attention to these reservations and asking him to consider what should be done with them. His nomination as Vice-President followed in June, and I suspect that he forgot all about it during his six-hundred speech stumping tour. I happened to be attending the first meeting of the State Conference of Charities and Correction at Albany last November, and I spoke to Mr. Roosevelt about the matter. He invited me to an interview in the executive chamber and show r ed that he was deeply interested in the subject, although he confessed that he had naturally lost sight of it for a time. That led to the appointment of a commission to investigate the whole subject. He selected a commission of five, four of whom were citizens of New York, and I felt honored and complimented, being outside of the State, to be appointed as the fifth. The other members were Bishop Walker, Mr. Darwin R. James, president of the board of Indian commissioners; Mr. Daniel Smiley, and Hon. Oscar Straus, at that time minister to Turkey. We had a very short time to get the report in to the governor, and it was rather brief and, perhaps, superficial. We were unable to obtain information about the legislation of the State of New York and other matters desirable, and which would require more time than the committee had at its disposal before the term of the governor should expire. However, they did make their report, which will be found bound with the report of the board of Indian commissioners for last year. They reviewed the state of things and made some recommendations, stating that they had found on the reservation somewhat barbarous conditions not at all in keeping with the civilization of so great and old a State. Their main recommendation was that everything relating to the legislation for the New York Indians should be relegated to the United States. That was a principal point of discussion, whether the United States or the State of New York should deal with them. It was our conclusion that the United States should take charge of the matter and that proper legislation should be sought at the next session of Congress, extending the provisions of the Dawes bill to the Indians of New York, who were specifically left out of its application.

The commission also discussed the subject of the leasing of Indian lands, to deal with which may require a Congressional commission. I think the report was made December 20. The consequence was that Mr. Roosevelt, whose gubernatorial term was to end December 31, himself being about to assume the duties of the Vice-President of the United States, having other matters to attend to, really did not have an opportunity, as governor of New York, to give the subject much attention. It was our hope that, being in Washington, he would be able to further this legislation, and I trust that may prove to be the case yet. In his still higher exaltation to the Presidency of the United States he will be able to further such legislation, and his study of this subject, albeit somewhat limited hitherto, will lead him to see that the same line of treatment is now needed for the Indians of the whole country that is, the destruction of all reservations and the conversion of the Indians into citizens, and their absorption as members of the entire body politic of the United States. That is what we now want. In my estimation the Indians are all nearly ready for citizen ship. I believe the great majority might safely be made citizens. Of course there are backward tribes, but I believe that even in those cases there would be less suffering from their conversion into citizens and the destruction of the present old and complex system than from the great expense to the people of the United States by the retention of that system. It would cause less injury to the country than we suffer all the time from a lot of rowdy, lazy, loafing white people in the western country. If it were not for the patronage system, I think the Indians would have made much further preparation for citizenship. Patronage is the curse of the United States. You cannot get a reservation abolished because some member of Congress wishes to hold on to it for those to whom he owes his position in Congress. This is the principal source of the retardation of the Indians in their progress toward citizenship. The church may well add to her prayers, “From the evils of patronage, good Lord, deliver us; from the despotism of agencies, deliver us, good Lord.”

The agent is an absolute autocrat on his reservation. The progress of the Indian toward civilization is blocked by the agency. Why can we not get rid of them? Toward that we should bend our energies. This question of the New York Indians is only a trifling illustration of the need of that. The reservation system is a hindrance to the advance of civilization. It is preposterous in a State like this. The Indians have made scarcely any progress in a hundred years, and yet some of them are as well prepared for citizenship as many of the farmers around them.

With Dr. Gates I enjoyed a visit to the reservations this last summer, and we were much interested to observe that among the best of the Indians there was manifest preparation for citizenship, almost equal to that of the white people about them. We visited a number of houses of farmers where the evidences of intelligence, of education, and taste for art were manifest. Some of them had pianos in their parlors, and their conversation indicated that they had been to schools and colleges, and it really seemed absurd to think of them on any theory as savages, and as though these reservations must be kept up.

I am inclined to believe that we have reached a time when we ought to look forward to the entire abolition of the Indian system at an early day. We want an emancipation proclamation which at a stroke can set free the Indian peoples and let them be self dependent and subject to all the penalties, privileges, and immunities of the laws of the United States. I think we should do all we can to bring that about.

Continuing The “Indian System” Indefinitely Will Do More Harm Than Would Follow Its Immediate Abolition.

The President. Each added week of attention to this subject convinces me that if the entire Indian Bureau could be speedily done away with we should risk vastly less than I used to think we should. I believe that we should risk less than we risk by perpetuating the present system if within the next five years the whole Indian system could be swept away. I doubt if there is a tribe now in any State or Territory in the Union which within the next five years could not be put under the operation of the laws of the State or Territory and the local administration of the counties where they now live, and have land allotted them, with better results upon the whole than will follow if they are left as they now are. We must certainly face the problem.

May I add a word about New York? I visited not only the Cattaraugus and Allegheny reservations, but also the Tonawandas and the Onondagas last summer. While on this trip I was interested in looking up a little mission church where a missionary whom I knew in my boyhood had earlier preached to the Indians, sixty years ago and more. Fully three generations ago there was a little Presbyterian church for Indians in that neighborhood. But you can still find pagan customs there. You will find there many Indians as well qualified to manage their own property as are the members of this conference. Still, they are herded together there as Indians, and paganism is perpetuated in the heart of the Empire State. Let in the law! Establish homesteads and homes! Allot land, and make self-respecting citizens of these people, too long ” coddled ” by a special system!

Beside the gospel, we need law. We need to make these men worth something to the State, and to themselves as individual citizens. They need to manage their own property, and to learn to take their places as American citizens. Let the end come soon.

Address Of Me. A. K. Smeley.

I think Mr. Garrett has struck the right chord the great danger from a continuance of the reservations. The men in office in Washington, in the Indian Bureau, and in the Indian agencies want this system to be perpetual, and the politicians want it so that they can distribute positions for political work, for there are many offices to fill. We are going to have a tremendous struggle to get rid of the Indian reservation and of the Indian Bureau. We recommended last year that ten or more agencies should be given up, but we got rid of only three. I had a letter from Mr. Murray, who says the question has come up in Oklahoma. If an Indian has taken up land in severalty he has become a United States citizen, and can vote or do anything that any other citizen can do; yet in Oklahoma the agent takes those Indians and manages them as in the old times. He takes charge of their property, leases their land, prevents them from going off the reservation; they are not allowed to vote, and they are treated exactly as in old times, so that the Indians are worse off than before. That ought not to be. These Indians lease their land and go off and live in a tent, putting their children into boarding schools, and live themselves like savages. Such Indians should be thrown into deep water and left to swim. I wish the moneys that the Indians got from the sales of land could be lost this year, every penny, and let them work or starve, those who have able bodies. This pampering of Indians is an error. I am more and more convinced of it. You can never civilize the Indians until they work for their own living. Colonel Pratt is right. The more I see the more I believe this. The tendency of benevolent people is to give them land. How many of our poor white people have land and homes? Why should they be treated in a different way? A man who can earn $1.25 a day and will not do anything but smoke and drink and gamble and lean against the fence in summer, then when winter comes let him starve; he deserves it. You will never make the Indian worth anything so long as you pamper and feed him. I don’t believe in their renting their land. It ought to be stopped. Then there is the question of land for which there is no title. Out of 800 allotments to the Pawnees, over 300 are now vacant. The United States must find some way of disposing of that land. I repeat that I believe in throwing the Indian into deep water and letting him swim.

The Chairman. When you see this state of mind produced on this man of peace, you can imagine how deep the evils must be.

Mr. Smiley. If we had such women as Miss Collins, with her kind heart and good sense, all over the land, we should have little difficulty. The trouble is, we have to deal with politicians.

He was followed by Rev. H. B. Frissell, D. D., principal of Hampton Institute, Va.

Rev. H. B. Frissell, D. D. I think the wisdom of Mr. Smiley in opening this conference to the consideration of the needs of other peoples besides the Indian .is evidenced by this morning’s session. Certainly what has occurred in Hawaii ought to help us in our dealing with the negro and Indian races of our own land. My illustrious predecessor, General Armstrong, gained this thought through long years of experience, and the wisdom of his method of education was due very largely to the fact that he knew this Hawaiian child race, and understood the needs of similar races. I am glad of the last word that was spoken, that we can not do these things all at once. We speak of the Hawaiians as a nation born in a day. They were, in a sense. They were easily converted to Christianity, but we must realize that the civilization of a race is a long, long process. One of the most difficult things which we have to deal with in trying to civilize a race is the condition of our own people. We need to be a great deal more civilized than we are. A little Indian girl was once asked by a Hampton visitor, “Are you civilized?” “No,” said she, “are you?” And it is very questionable which had the most civilization. With all these undeveloped races we feel that we have not got to fight against their barbarism so much as against the barbarism of the Anglo-Saxon.

A great deal has been said here in regard to the matter of religion. I feel that not too much has been said. I believe that the awful crime that has lately been committed in this country has emphasized the fact as never before that our religion has got to go into every part of our life. We have fought in this country for the separation of church and state, and, I believe, rightly. We must understand, however, that there is to be no separation between religion and state; that religion has got to go into every part of the state, into all our life. I believe that today our Government Indian schools ought to have more of the religious life. I am sure this is the feeling of our superintendent, Miss Reel. I believe, from my observations at the conference in Detroit, that that is the feeling of almost all the superintendents. Religion ought to go into our common schools, too. When Mr. Sherman’s Indian committee came to Hampton, one of the committee said to me when he left, ” I like Hampton because there is so much religion here.” We are most of us Protestants, but I do think that we teach the religion of Christ just so far as possible. We at Hampton, with our undenominational church, are trying to show what can be done along the line of Christian undenominational teaching.

Gen. John Eaton. What will you do in the Government schools with that constitutional clause that forbids Congress to appropriate money for the establishment of any religion?

Dr. Frissell. We are not establishing a religion. Religion comes in as part of our life there; we are not establishing it; we are trying to live it out.

General Eaton. It was on that ground that they tried to exclude Hampton from receiving Government aid, on account of that clause in the Constitution.

Dr. Frissell. Senator Pettigrew did try to fight it, but we have conquered. We have said that it was right that an undenominational school should have help from the Government, and I believe the principle is right. Senator Pettigrew has brought up year after year what we have done at Hampton in our Sunday-school work, and in our missionary work, and we have been glad to say, “Yes, we have done it all, and more than you have said, but we are undenominational, and it is right that we should have the help of the United States in our Christian work for the Indians.”

I am sure that we were all grateful for the word said to us last night by our illustrious friend, General Morgan. I think that the system of Indian schools that he established is of great advantage to us. These schools have much to do with every-day life. General Morgan said that all this educational work ought to be adapted to the people for whom it is carried on. He did not mean to say that the Massachusetts high school ought to go to Porto Rico, or the Philippines, or even to the Indians. We have got to study these various races, and meet their individual needs. We have got to teach them how to live, how to get out of the old ways into the new.

I am very glad of the words spoken by the ladies in regard to native industries. Each of these races has something to bring to us something in art, something in religion, something in life, and something in native industry. One other thought. If we are going to encourage these native arts we must have more freedom. The man in the store at the agency has control of everything. We want to open up these industries on all the reservations. A little while ago even the Government found that it could not get hold of certain baskets because they were all in the hands of a single man. We want freedom to buy and to sell. We must have more freedom for the Indian that he may be more of a man.


Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901.

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