What is the goal of a reservation?

  • Jul 09, 2024
What is the goal of a reservation?

It is hoped that a reservation will become a temporary and mutually beneficial compromise for both sides to reach a common denominator that is acceptable to both parties.

Reservation is a form of tenure ship that was assigned and controlled territories of Native Americans by the US federal government. Pre-emption laws are one of the most discussed and least understood if the intended aim of these laws is to be understood as protecting Native American tribes from outside influence, then the laws have largely served this purpose.

Origins of Reservations

Present day reservation system evolved during the mid of the nineteenth century when the United States authorities aimed at relocating the natives from the land that they occupied. This was especially to allow these lands to be taken over by white settlers and owners. Treaty agreements entered into between the tribes and the government in the latter half of the nineteenth century signaled the tribes’ surrender and their movement to reserve land that was of no economic importance to the whites.

The forced relocation of tribes and families for the sake of expansion is today regarded as ethnic cleansing and a blemish in the history of the United States. Despite that, the reserved lands did afford tribes a measure of governmental authority over affairs internal that has assisted in the preservation of Native cultures and identities despite the annihilationist policies of the USA that were designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples.

Preserving Sovereignty

Another important reason for reservations has been to protect tribes as a means of governance. Reservations are described as dependent nations within a country possessing limited sovereign rights to its’ citizenry and land. Sovereign rights of a tribe allow tribes to have their own legal jurisdiction and taxation code education systems, police forces, and Natural Resource Management policies within a reservation.

There are approximately 326 reservations in the US today, which are home to several hundred federally recognized tribes with different sets of rules and regulations. Although state laws have rather limited power in this regard, tribal governments of the reservations can adopt their constitutional legislation for their tribes and territories. Anything ranging from the leasing of lands and hunting to operating licenses and health ordinances is ceded to tribes if they occur in reservation areas.

This semi-autonomous status provides more opportunities for reservation-based tribes to manage themselves with an increased degree of freedom regarding the protection and transformation of their social, cultural, and economic relations. This approach of having certain lands reserved to only the indigenous people and their prerogative has been fundamental for the tribes’ continuance of unadulterated cultural practices.

Preserving Culture and Heritage

A primary goal for setting aside reservations was to ensure that the native Americans could live in harmony in their land of origin where their cultures thrived. Reservations provide the setting and the opportunity for tribes to teach the coming generations of their people about the ways and culture, languages, and traditional oral histories that are endemic to the territories.

Some of those sanctified native locales are located within or bordering reservations, particularly mountains, rivers, hunting areas, or trails. Previous federal policies that prohibited native sacred activities and rituals prevented tribes from even being able to impart complete knowledge to the following generations, as other cultural aspects related to the geography and territory are concerned. Therefore, Indigenous places that are kept as reserves to them help preserve areas where native people can learn about their heritage and live more as they once could.

Population concentrations of the tribal members living in a communal land base also assist reservation tribes in maintaining the cultural critical mass required for transmitting the values of heritage through socially and culturally related activities such as storytelling, native foods, arts and dances, music, and ceremonies. Some twenty-five Native languages that are in danger of dying out in the community have been saved and are being reclaimed in reservations by the current generations.

Economic Development

However, it must be noted that both the preservation of cultural heritage is also important while tribal governments use the reserved land as the starting point for their economic growth. Many reservations now have casinos as a booming industry for development and they also invest in other sectors such as tourism, manufacturing, resource extraction, retail, and agriculture.

Employment opportunities for the young and school leavers, particularly those in or near their home communities, are created by operating businesses and industries within reservations necessary for prosperity. It also generates revenue for tribal governments to reinvest into their development, health care, education, environmental preservation, and other cultural and development programs for their people and future development.

Natural Resource Management

A potential that sets reservations apart from mere ethnic geographical separatism is the rights of indigenous tribes to use the natural resources in the territories they own but that are in trust with the federal government. This includes rights for hunting, collection of edible products, and fishing for personal and small-scale commercial use. Tribes on reservations may independently and autonomously control and determine the utilization of such commodities as forests, fish, grazing lands, water rights, etc.

That protected control offers reservations economic generators; yet, also allows tribes to sustain themselves through environmentally sustainable stewardship models that are grounded in indigenous cultural and spiritual values for respecting the earth as the sacred land of their ancestors. Reservations allow tribes to continue cultural practices attached to their territories while also creating ways to sustain themselves using resources from the reservation.

In Summary

The reservation system emerged out of Indigenous peoples' displacement from their richest territories but they have semi-sovereign federally protected jurisdictions that allow Native American tribal Nations to have a base to defend their sovereignty, culture, and future that has endured decades of assimilation attempts. While set apart and limited by colonial oppression, reservations today symbolize Indigenous survival.

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