Native American Policy


Two conflicting policies have governed this country’s treatment of Native Americans—assimilation and removal. As the United States expanded, it became necessary to issue formal policy statements and make treaties with Native peoples. Besides providing for a methodical process of colonization and future statehood, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 initiated a policy regarding the treatment of Native Americans that encouraged fair and equal treatment. By the 1820s Native Americans had demonstrated the ability to adapt to their changing environment, but federal policies began to shift as expansion progressed and land became more valuable.

When Andrew Jackson took office in 1829, 125,000 Native Americans occupied millions of acres of valuable land in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Emerging political questions began to revolve around whether Native Americans would be permitted to block the tide of white expansion into these and other areas. Federal policy would culminate with the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Essential Question:

How did federal policy toward Native Americans change between the times of the Washington and Jackson presidencies?


Primary Documents

Other Materials

Day One:

Warm-up Activity:

Distribute Frayer model for vocabulary building. Have students define the word "assimilate" and complete worksheet. Debrief in order to ascertain students’ comprehension of the word.


  1. Have students break up into mixed-ability groups of six.
  2. Distribute each primary document listed in the Materials section to all of the groups, with one student in the group given responsibility for a particular document. After the students have had time to read their documents, ask them to analyze the documents using a SOAPS format (Source, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, and Surprises) with the student who was given a particular document leading the discussion as the expert on that source. Alternatively, you can ask an entire group to analyze one document and using the "jigsaw" approach, subsequently regroup students to discuss and analyze other documents.
  3. After ensuring that students have a good understanding of their sources, distribute the comparison worksheets and ask each student to take notes as the student "expert" shares information.

Homework Assignment:

Have students write out one question on something that they either did not understand or want more information on and tell them to be ready to share the question with their group on Day 2.

Day Two:

  1. Students will continue to work on their Comparison Worksheets until all the documents have been discussed.
  2. Each student will be given ten minutes to write down a one- or two-paragraph entry that summarizes the treatment of Native Americans during this period. Students will be asked to share their summary with their group members.
  3. If there is enough time, groups will choose their best summaries to share with the class.


Distribute copies of the Indian Removal Act to all students. Highlight key factors that explain the removal policy. Instruct the students that they will be given an opportunity to vote on passage of this bill. Have students vote on whether to pass this bill or reject it.


Have students respond to one of the following quotes:

  • "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
  • "[We hold these truths to be self-evident] . . . that they [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Have students answer the following questions:

  1. Did the leaders of the Early Republic follow the guidelines established by the Northwest Ordinance?
  2. Did the policies of these early leaders reflect the goals of the Declaration of Independence? Cite examples from the documents.
  3. Based on your knowledge of current events, can you connect the type of treatment given to Native Americans to your life and with events happening around you today?