Periods of Federal Indian Policy

Federal policy towards Indian tribes has moved in various decades, from a physical extripation, to measured separatism, to removal, to assimilation, to self-determination – sometimes at the same time.
Prof. Matthew L.M. Fletcher

Between the 1820s and the 1850s, the idea was that settlers desire for land, natural resources ad resolution of conflicts could be accomplished, by removing Indian tribes to lands far away from settlers. The United States negotiated a number of removal treaties after the War of 1812, gut the process moved slowly and settlers appetite for land outpaced land cessions by tribes.

Joel West Williams, a Staff Attorney at the Native American Rights Fund and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. He obtained degrees in Psychology and Religious Studies from Naropa University. At Naropa, he was awarded the President’s Leadership Scholarship and his senior project in the religious studies department focused on Cherokee history and religion.

Joel attended Widener University School of Law, where he was a student attorney at the environmental law clinic and represented citizen groups pursuing lawsuits under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Administrative Procedures Act. He was also awarded a certificate of achievement by Joseph R. Biden.

We are extremely pleased to have someone of his background speak on such an important issue. In this CLE video clip, Joel discusses Periods of Federal Indian Policy.

Watch the Full Indian Law CLE Class

The Indian Removal Act of 1830, like other removal treaties, were negotiated under duress. Large factions within Tribes did not recognize the validity of treaties, yet U.S. Used military power to forcibly remove those who did not comply.

During the allotment and assimilation period of the 1880s to the 1930s, congress began regulating the government to government relationship primarily through legislation. Breaking up tribal lands and forcing Indians to live a non-Indian lifestyle. Reservations were allotted to individuals, with surplus lands going to non-Indians. Tribes lost a total of 2/3’s their total land base. Much of the doctrinal and jurisdictional complexity in Indian law, is due to the allotment era.

For more on the different periods of Federal Indian Policy, check out the full video with Joel West Williams from