The legacy of land dispossession and forced migration of Indigenous peoples in North America – and the dismal results – are highlighted in a new data set that compares historic tribal lands to current tribal lands.
The authors of the study “relied on sources of information known for many years but which had not been incorporated due to the enormous task involved,” writes Donald Fixico from a related perspective. The results provide a means to better inform future research and policy.
While previous research clearly illustrates that land dispossession and forced migration laid the foundation for the conditions Indigenous peoples in the United States face today, it has mostly focused on qualitative evidence based on studies of cases drawn from historical and anthropological accounts.
Moreover, much reliable data regarding the long history of land dispossession and forced migration is fragmented and difficult to access, whether intentionally suppressed or scattered and buried in disparate government agencies.
Justin Farrell and his colleagues have compiled a large amount of data from a wide variety of sources, ranging from publications and public records of Indigenous nations to US government records. Analysis of the data reveals a detailed record of indigenous land loss and forced migration spanning nearly 300 years.
According to Farrell et al., The density and spread of indigenous lands has been reduced by almost 99% since European colonization and continental expansion. Indigenous people were also forced to settle on land more vulnerable to climate impacts and containing fewer natural resources, according to the analysis.
Today, Indigenous lands are more likely to lie alongside federally managed lands, which inhibits the movement, management and traditional uses of Indigenous lands.
“This macro-analysis allows us to re-examine quantitatively, in a holistic way, what the Indian country looked like when it was displaced and diminished and how the tribal land base might be viewed today,” Fixico writes.