What Is the History of Native American Reservations?

Native American reservations are lands that are set aside for the use and benefit of Native American tribes in the United States. These lands are typically located in remote areas and cover vast expanses of land. The history of Native American reservations is a complex one, marked by struggle, conflict, and a long-standing fight for tribal sovereignty.

The Origins of Native American Reservations

The origins of Native American reservations can be traced back to the early days of European colonization in North America. As Europeans began to settle on the continent, they came into contact with various Native American tribes and nations.

At first, relations between Europeans and Native Americans were often characterized by trade and cooperation. However, as more Europeans arrived and began to expand their settlements, conflict between the two groups became increasingly common.

The Indian Removal Act

In 1830, the U.S. government passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the forced relocation of Native Americans from their ancestral lands to distant territories west of the Mississippi River.

This act led to what is now known as the Trail of Tears, during which thousands of Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their homes in Georgia and forced to march more than 800 miles to present-day Oklahoma. Thousands died along the way due to disease, hunger, and exposure.

The Reservation System

In an effort to control Native American populations and make way for further white settlement in North America, the U. government began creating reservations in the mid-19th century.

These reservations were areas set aside specifically for Native Americans to live on and were typically located on land that was considered unsuitable for white settlement or land that had been taken from tribes through treaties or force.

Life on Reservations

Life on reservations has been difficult for many Native American tribes. The forced relocation from ancestral lands disrupted traditional ways of life and led to significant cultural loss. Many tribes were forced to give up their traditional hunting and gathering practices in favor of farming, which was often unfamiliar and difficult to sustain on the land that was allotted to them.

Additionally, the U. government has historically underfunded reservations, leading to poor living conditions and inadequate access to health care, education, and other basic services.

Recent Developments

In recent years, there have been efforts to address some of the issues facing Native American reservations. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 gave tribes greater control over their own affairs and allowed them to manage their own programs and services.

Additionally, there has been a growing movement among Native American tribes to assert their sovereignty and work toward greater self-determination. Many tribes are working to revitalize traditional cultural practices and languages that were lost during the period of forced relocation.


The history of Native American reservations is a complicated one that is marked by struggle, conflict, and resilience. While reservations have provided a home for many Native American tribes over the years, they have also been the site of significant cultural loss and hardship.

Today, many Native American tribes are working toward greater self-determination and pushing for greater recognition of their sovereignty. As we move forward as a society, it is important that we continue to work toward addressing the issues facing Native American communities and honoring the rich cultural heritage that they represent.