American Indians in the United States know there was a time when we represented 100 percent of the population and owned 100 percent of the land. When we think of how we got where we are, the date that matters is 1492, because the Norse settlements that steal Columbus’s thunder were well north of the U.S.
Of course, there was no U.S. in 1492, and there would not be for almost 300 years. Columbus kicked off the greatest treasure hunt in human history, and the Spanish royalty he represented hauled off the lion’s share of precious metals.
Gold and silver were not the whole story. If they had been, the colonists could have been bought off with mining concessions. Europe was feudal when the Americas beckoned, and the basis of wealth in a feudal society is land. Every tract, or fief, belonged to some warlord, and the right to the labor of the actual occupants “ran with the land.”
Land titles were derived from warlord kings, and the kings got their title by the grace of God, who must have blessed their battles with other kings. Kings ruled by Divine Right, and the wealth of the royal houses of Europe came from the vassals who owned the serfs who actually worked the land.
In the Age of Discovery, the European royals at first funded exploration in hope of gold for the taking or a route to India around the choke points that made trade with India so expensive. Once the land was looted of portable wealth, the European warlords licensed colonization. Not colonization by individuals—who could come to style themselves kings and get too big for their britches—but rather colonization by corporations under royal charter. The charter contained rules for the distribution of the profits.
Keep reading to watch the video of the shrinking land base on the last page.
So what we know today as globalization and rule by corporations literally began with the U.S. The Plymouth Company and the Massachusetts Bay Company were the primary English players, competing with the Company of New France and the Dutch West India Company.
The West Coast got the same treatment, with the Spanish present first among Europeans and looking for gold. The Spanish founded missions in California on land granted from the Spanish king, while the Russian-American Company attempted colonization of California in 1812 to help feed the Russian colonies in Alaska.
Russia, Spain, France, and England all claimed the West Coast by right of European discovery, but Russia and Spain were the first to have permanent settlements.
Back on the East Coast, the English corporations had prevailed over the Dutch and French, and the Spanish never asserted themselves north of Florida. Then the English colonies united and cut ties with the English crown.
Immediately upon the creation of the United States, that nation set about separating Indigenous Peoples from their land. Sometimes buying, sometimes stealing, the colonists who no longer considered themselves colonists spread east to west, pushing Indian tribes before them.
Between 1776 and 1887, the United States hoovered up 1.5 billion acres of Indian land. Most of us are only clear about how our ancestors lost their homeland, if that. The overall process is more vague in our minds because it is not taught with precision in the public schools.
It would be worthwhile to learn as much of the full story as possible, and there is now a teaching tool to break it down by geography and by time.
The Invasion of America website was created by the University of Georgia.
Across the bottom is a timeline stretching between 1784 and the present. You can move the time line from left to right and watch the indigenous land base shrinking, a graphic illustration of, as the interactive map is captioned, “how the United States took over an eighth of the world.”
A screenshot from the Invasion of America website. This one shows 1784.
Clicking on any tract of land produces information on the treaty or the military action that left the U.S. in possession of it. When available, there is a direct link to the text of the treaty.
You can also enter the name of your tribal nation in the search engine in the upper left and get a view of where your people were actually living. It is amazing to see how often the land was acquired from a different tribe than the one living there.
The Cherokee Reservation in Indian Territory was stolen in 1907 to create Oklahoma, but the dirt on which that reservation existed was acquired from the Quapaw and Osage.
Manipulating the timeline after searching for a tribal nation moves the tribal nation around as the people of that nation were in fact moved around. Of necessity, the map shows crisp and clear boundaries, which are particularly absurd in the case of the horse Indians, who ranged anywhere the buffalo did. There was also dispute about the vague boundary descriptions in many treaties, a shortcoming recognized by the creators.
While there is no way to document a theft on this scale perfectly, the University of Georgia has provided an important resource for those of us who want to know the history of other tribal nations, and a demonstration for the more open-minded children of colonists that they are in fact colonists. That’s a rare realization, and having this graphic representation of the colonization process should speak loudly to those who care enough to listen.
Before exploring the interactive map, see the incredible shrinking Indian land base in animation. The Invasion of America is on YouTube, with a URL for the interactive map. Since it was only published on June 2, there are no comments yet. Expect the comments under the animation to get lively, if not entertaining.