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When Native Americans Briefly Won Back Their Land

November 1, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

A proclamation by King George III set the stage for Native American rights—and the eventual loss of most tribal lands.

They came from near and far: Native American chiefs and representatives of various tribes bearing gifts for a historic meeting. Their destination was Fort Niagara in New York, where dozens of Nations would meet to negotiate a new alliance with the British.

Months earlier, in 1763, George III had announced that the colonies would no longer seize Native lands or purchase it without treaties. For the first time, Native Americans’ rights to their own tribal lands had been recognized in the laws of one of North America’s colonial conquerors.

Two thousand Native Americans gathered at Niagara to celebrate the proclamation and to announce their intention to be peaceful toward British colonists. Decades before the first Indian reservations were established in the United States, colonial Britain created a vast “Indian Reserve” across thousands of miles of its newly expanded territory.

Starting in 1763, no English settlers could legally travel through or acquire land west of the Appalachian Mountains—a massive swath of territory recently gained from France during the French and Indian War.

French and Indian War Leads to Reshuffled American Map

Map of the British dominions in North America according to the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

The proclamation was a watershed for Native American rights. But the tribal members who commemorated the proclamation with wampum belts and other offerings had no idea that the agreement had set the stage not just for the American Revolution, but the eventual loss of most of their lands.

Native Americans had been losing land slowly but surely throughout British colonial rule. “Each treaty expanded the area for colonial occupation and reduced the land base of different tribes,” notes geographer Charlie Grymes. With growing territory came a growing British desire to live and farm along the colonial frontier.

But the British had a rival with the same goal: the French, who made claims in the Ohio River Valley beginning in the 1850s. The valley was a fertile area whose waterway held major trade promise, and the British wanted to claim it for the crown. Armed conflict began in 1754, and in 1756, Britain formally declared war on France. After a rocky start, Britain prevailed, and in February 1763 the war ended with the Treaty of Paris.

The treaty reshuffled …read more


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