Famous Quotes in Native American History

Welcome to my growing collection of historical quotes relating to Native America and injustice. I started collecting these quotes many years ago and shared them at schools and church meetings to help illustrate the attack on Native American culture by government and religious agencies. Feel free to share the link. If you copy & paste, be sure to include all the source information for each quote / article. Thanks, Jeny

Peace and War – Chief Powhatan aka Wahunsenacawh

chief powhatan

Chief Powhatan, whose real name was Wahunsenacawh, was the leader of the Powhatan Confederacy. It is said that he wrote Captain John Smith in 1607, saying:

“I have seen two generations of my people die … I know the difference between peace and war better than any man in my country. I am now grown old and must die soon; my authority must descend to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opechancanough and Catatough – then to my two sisters, and then my two daughters. I wish them to know as much as I do, and that your love to them may be like mine to you. Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods; then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as to not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat nor sleep. In these wars, my men must sit up watching, and if a twig break, they all cry out “Here comes Captain Smith!” So, I must end my miserable life. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may all die in the same manner.”

(This quote is found in the book “A People’s History of the United States: 1492- Present” by Howard Zinn. Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress. Pg 13. (2001 Perennial Classics/ 1980 HarperCollins)

Smallpox and Native American Blankets – Colonel Henry Bouquet & Lord Jeffrey Amherst

Lord Jeffrey Amherst. July 13, 1763 – An article by Cecil Adams “Did whites ever give Native Americans blankets infected with smallpox?” which refers to the research of Peter d’Errico.

Adams writes in the above mentioned article, “According to historian Francis Parkman, Amherst first raised the possibility of giving the Indians infected blankets in a letter to Colonel Henry Bouquet, who would lead reinforcements to Fort Pitt. No copy of this letter has come to light, but we do know that Bouquet discussed the matter in a postscript to a letter to Amherst on July 13, 1763:

“P.S. I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to oppose good men against them, I wish we could make use of the Spaniard’s Method, and hunt them with English Dogs. Supported by Rangers, and some Light Horse, who would I think effectively extirpate or remove that Vermine.

“On July 16 Amherst replied, also in a postscript:

“P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

“On July 26 Bouquet wrote back:

“I received yesterday your Excellency’s letters of 16th with their Inclosures. The signal for Indian Messengers, and all your directions will be observed.

Adams continues, “To modern ears, this talk about infecting the natives with smallpox, hunting them down with dogs, etc., sounds over the top. But it’s easy to believe Amherst and company were serious. D’Errico provides other quotes from Amherst’s correspondence that suggest he considered Native Americans subhumans who ought to be exterminated.

Check out his research for yourself at http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/amherst/lord_jeff.html. He not only includes transcriptions but also reproduces the relevant parts of the incriminating letters.”

CECIL ADAMS Oct 24, 1997. (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_066.html )

Inscription on Portrait of Pocahontas

pocahontas rotunda

In 1837, during the years of the Indian Removal Act and the administration of the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, this painting of Pocahontas was commissioned and then displayed in 1840. It is still hanging in the White House Rotunda today! There is an inscription that reads:

“Pocahontas is depicted in white as she is baptized Rebecca by Anglican minister Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia; this event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614. She kneels surrounded by family members, including her father, Chief Powhatan, and colonists. Her brother Nantequaus turns away from the ceremony. The baptism occurred before her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe, who stands behind her. Their union is said to be the first recorded marriage between a European and a Native American. The scene symbolizes the belief of Americans at the time that Native Americans should accept Christianity and other European ways.”

“Kill The Indian, Save The Man” – Captain Richard C. Pratt


Carlisle’s founder, Capt. Richard C. Pratt, espoused an approach to educating Native Americans that aimed to “kill the Indian, and save the man.” The following excerpt from a paper read by Pratt at the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction, at Denver, Colorado, in 1892, spotlights Pratt’s pragmatic and frequently brutal methods for “civilizing” the “savages.”

A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man….

The Indians under our care remained savage, because forced back upon themselves and away from association with English-speaking and civilized people [as a result of segregation on isolated reservations], and because of our savage example and treatment of them. . . . We have never made any attempt to civilize them with the idea of taking them into the nation, and all of our policies have been against citizenizing and absorbing them. Although some of the policies now prominent are advertised to carry them into citizenship and consequent association and competition with other masses of the nation, they are not, in reality, calculated to do this….

We make our greatest mistake in feeding our civilization to the Indians instead of feeding the Indians to our civilization. America has different customs and civilizations from Germany. What would be the result of an attempt to plant American customs and civilization among the Germans in Germany, demanding that they shall become thoroughly American before we admit them to the country? Now, what we have all along attempted to do for and with the Indians is just exactly that, and nothing else. We invite the Germans to come into our country and communities, and share our customs, our civilization, to be of it; and the result is immediate success. Why not try it on the Indians? Why not invite them into experiences in our communities? Why always invite and compel them to remain a people unto themselves?

It is a great mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage. He is born a blank, like all the rest of us. Left in the surroundings of savagery, he grows to possess a savage language, superstition, and life. We, left in the surroundings of civilization, grow to possess a civilized language, life, and purpose. Transfer the infant white to the savage surroundings, he will grow to possess a savage language, superstition, and habit. Transfer the savage-born infant to the surroundings of civilization, and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit. These results have been established over and over again beyond all question; and it is also well established that those advanced in life, even to maturity, of either class, lose already acquired qualities belonging to the side of their birth, and gradually take on those of the side to which they have been transferred.

As we have taken into our national family seven millions of Negroes, and as we receive foreigners at the rate of more than five hundred thousand a year, and assimilate them, it would seem that the time may have arrived when we can very properly make at least the attempt to assimilate our two hundred and fifty thousand Indians, using this proven potent line, and see if that will not end this vexed question and remove them from public attention, where they occupy so much more space than they are entitled to either by numbers or worth.

The school at Carlisle is an attempt on the part of the government to do this. Carlisle has always planted treason to the tribe and loyalty to the nation at large. It has preached against colonizing Indians, and in favor of individualizing them. It has demanded for them the same multiplicity of chances which all others in the country enjoy. Carlisle fills young Indians with the spirit of loyalty to the stars and stripes, and then moves them out into our communities to show by their conduct and ability that the Indian is no different from the white or the colored, that he has the inalienable right to liberty and opportunity that the white and the negro have. Carlisle does not dictate to him what line of life he should fill, so it is an honest one. It says to him that, if he gets his living by the sweat of his brow, and demonstrates to the nation that he is a man, he does more good for his race than hundreds of his fellows who cling to their tribal communistic surroundings. . . .

No evidence is wanting to show that, in our industries, the Indian can become a capable and willing factor if he has the chance. What we need is an Administration which will give him the chance. The Land in Severalty Bill can be made far more useful than it is, but it can be made so only by assigning the land so as to intersperse good, civilized people among them. If, in the distribution, it is so arranged that two or three white families come between two Indian families, then there would necessarily grow up a community of fellowship along all the lines of our American civilization that would help the Indian at once to his feet. Indian schools must, of necessity, be for a time, because the Indian cannot speak the language, and he knows nothing of the habits and forces he has to contend with; but the highest purpose of all Indian schools ought to be only to prepare the young Indian to enter the public and other schools of the country. And immediately he is so prepared, for his own good and the good of the country, he should be forwarded into these other schools, there to temper, test, and stimulate his brain and muscle into the capacity he needs for his struggle for life, in competition with us. The missionary can, if he will, do far greater service in helping the Indians than he has done; but it will only be by practicing the doctrine he preaches. As his work is to lift into higher life the people whom he serves, he must not, under any pretence whatsoever, give the lie to what he preaches by discountenancing the right of any individual Indian to go into higher and better surroundings, but, on the contrary, he should help the Indian to do that. If he fails in thus helping and encouraging the Indian, he is false to his own teaching. An examination shows that no Indians within the limits of the United States have acquired any sort of capacity to meet and cope with the whites in civilized pursuits who did not gain that ability by going among the whites and out from the reservations, and that many have gained this ability by so going out.

Theorizing citizenship into people is a slow operation. What a farce it would be to attempt teaching American citizenship to the negroes in Africa. They could not understand it; and, if they did, in the midst of such contrary influences, they could never use it. Neither can the Indians understand or use American citizenship theoretically taught to them on Indian reservations. They must get into the swim of American citizenship. They must feel the touch of it day after day, until they become saturated with the spirit of it, and thus become equal to it.

When we cease to teach the Indian that he is less than a man; when we recognize fully that he is capable in all respects as we are, and that he only needs the opportunities and privileges which we possess to enable him to assert his humanity and manhood; when we act consistently towards him in accordance with that recognition; when we cease to fetter him to conditions which keep him in bondage, surrounded by retrogressive influences; when we allow him the freedom of association and the developing influences of social contact – then the Indian will quickly demonstrate that he can be truly civilized, and he himself will solve the question of what to do with the Indian.

Official Report of the Ninteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction (1892), 46-59. Reprinted in Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880-1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260-271. http://www.friedheimweb.net/his125s01/pratt.htm .

Stop Indian Dancing – Commissioner Chas. H. Burke

Office of Indian Affairs–Washington Supplement to Circular No. 1665
February 14, 1923
Indian Dancing

To Superintendants:

At a conference in October, 1922, of the missionaries of the several religious denominations represented in the Sioux country, the following recommendations were adopted and have been courteously submitted to this office:

1. That the Indian form of gambling and lottery known as the ‘ituranpi’ (translated ‘Give Away’) be prohibited.

2. That the Indian dances be limited to one in each month in the daylight hours of one day in the midweek, and at one center in each district; the months of March and April, June, July, and August be excepted.

3. That none take part in the dances or be present who are under 50 years of age.

4. That a careful propaganda be undertaken to educate public opinion against the dance and to provide a healthy substitute.

5. That there be close cooperation between the Government employees and the missionaries in those matters which affect the moral welfare of the Indians.

These recommendations, I am sure, were the result of sincere thought and discussion, and in view of their helpful spirit, are worthy of our careful consideration. They agree in the main with my attitudes outlined in Circular No. 1665 on Indian Dancing. Probably the purpose of paragraph 2 can be better fulfilled by some deviation from its specific terms according as circumstances or conditions vary in different reservations. Likewise, the restrictions in paragraph 3 may reasonably depend upon the character of the dance, its surroundings and supervision. I would not exclude those under 50 if the occasion is properly controlled and unattended by immoral or degrading influence.

The main features of the recommendations may be heartily endorsed, because they seek lawful and decent performance free from excess as to their length, conduct, and interference with self-supporting duties; because they urge cooperation towards something better to take the place of the various dance, and because they suggest the need of civilizing public sentiment in those white communities where little interest is taken in the Indians beyond the exhibition for commercial ends of ancient and barbarous customs.

After a conscientious study of the dance situation in this jurisdiction, the efforts of every superintendent must persistently encourage and emphasize the Indian’s attention to these political, useful, thrifty, and orderly activities that are indispensable to his well-being and that underlie the preservation of his race in the midst of complex and highly competitive conditions. The instinct of individual enterprise and devotion to the prosperity and elevation of family life should in some way be made paramount in every Indian household to the exclusion of idleness, waste of time at frequent gatherings of whatever nature, and the neglect of physical resources upon which depend food, clothings, shelter, and the very beginnings of progress.

Of course, we must give tact, persuasion, and appeal to the Indian’s good sense a chance to win ahead of peremptory orders, because our success must often follow a change of honest conviction and surrender of traditions held sacred, and we should, therefore, especially gain the support of the more enlightened and progressive element among the Indians as a means of showing how the things we would correct or abolish are handicaps to those who practice them. We must go about this work with some patience and charity and do it in a way that will convince the Indian of our fidelity to his best welfare, and in such a spirit we may welcome cooperation apart from our Service, especially from those whose splended labors and sacrifices are devoted to moral and social uplift everywhere.

The conditions in different reservations or sections of the Indian country are so unlike in important respect that I hesitate to attempt improvement by an administrative order uniformly applicable, as am, therefore, sending with this appeal to the Indians of all our jurisdictions to abandon certain general features of their gatherings, as indicated, and to agree with you as to the general rules that shall govern them.

I feel that it will be much better to accomplish something in this way than by more arbitrary methods, if it can be done, and therefore desire you after one year’s faithful trial to submit a special report upon the results with your recommendations.

The accompanying letter should be given the widest publicity possible among the Indians, and if necessary additional copies can be supplied for that purpose.

Please acknowledge the receipt hereof.

Sincerely yours,

Cut Long Hair & Stop Wearing Blankets – Commissioner W.S. Jones

Department of the Interior
Office of Indian Affairs
Washington, January 13, 1902

The Superintendent,
Greenville School,


This Office desires to call your attention to a few customs among the Indians which, it is believed, should be modified or discontinued.

The wearing of long hair by the male population of your agency is not in keeping with the advancement they are making, or will soon be expected to make, in civilization. The wearing of short hair by the males will be a great step in advance and will certainly hasten their progress towards civilization. The returned male student far too frequently goes back to the reservation and falls into the old custom of letting his hair grow long. He also paints profusely and adopts all the old habits and customs which his education in our industrial schools has tried to eradicate. The fault does not lie so much with the schools as with the conditions found on the reservations. These conditions are very often due to the policy of the Government toward the Indian and are often perpetuated by the superintendent’s not caring to take the initiative in fastening any new policy on his administration of the affairs of the agency.

On many of the reservations the Indians of both sexes paint claiming that it keeps the skin warm in winter and cool in summer; but instead, this paint melts when the Indian perspires and runs down into the eyes. The use of this paint leads to many diseases of the eyes among those Indians who paint. Persons who have given considerable thought and investigation to the subject are satisfied that this custom causes the majority of the cases of blindness among the Indians of the Unites States.

You are therefore directed to induce your male Indians to cut their hair, and both sexes to stop painting. With some of the Indians this will be an easy matter; with others it will require considerable tact and perseverance on the part of yourself and your employes (sic) to successfully carry out these instructions. With your Indian employes (sic) and those Indians who draw rations and supplies it should be an easy matter as a non-compliance with this order may be made a reason for discharge or for withholding rations and supplies. Many may be induced to comply with the order voluntarily, especially the returned student. The returned students who do not comply voluntarily should be dealt with summarily. Employment, supplies, etc., should be withdrawn until they do comply and if they become obstreperous about the matter a short confinement in the guard-house at hard labor, with shorn locks, should furnish a cure. Certainly all the younger men should wear short hear, and it is believed that by tact, perseverance firmness, and withdrawal of supplies the superintendent can induce all to comply with this order.

The wearing of citizen’s clothing, instead of the Indian costume and blanket, should be encouraged.

Indian dances and so-called Indian feasts should be prohibited. In many cases these dances and feasts are simply subterfuges to ever degrading acts and to disguise immoral purposes. You are directed to use your best efforts in the suppression of these evils.

Very respectfully,


(This letter was found at http://www.bluecloud.org/misunder.html. The incident was also recorded in “This Day in North American Indian History” by Phil Konstantin.

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