What is a reservation?
A reservation is a piece of land that has been given over to a specific Indian tribe, or sometimes several tribes.
Before Europeans came to North America, there were no Indian reservations. In the 1700s and 1800s, the lands American Indians lived on and cared for were taken by or sold to the United States. In exchange for these areas of land, the U.S. government promised tribes “reserved” lands that would be theirs forever. These became known as “reservations.” Throughout the 1800s, the U.S. government forced many tribes to leave their ancestral homelands and move onto these reservations, which were made smaller and smaller. This was a sad time for American Indians, because tribes’ lands were taken away and given to non-Native American settlers.
Today, there are just over 300 Indian reservations in the United States. Some reservations are big, like the Navajo Nation, whose reservation is about the same size as the state of West Virginia. Other reservations are very small, sometimes the size of a small neighborhood or even just a few acres. Some reservations are home to more than one tribe, and some tribes don’t have a reservation at all. It’s also important to know that many American Indians do not live on reservations. Today, more than half of all Native Americans do not live on an Indian reservation, and this number is growing rapidly. It is very common, however, that Native Americans who live in cities or elsewhere keep close ties to their reservations and return to them to visit family, or participate in cultural activities such as powwows or ceremonies.
By Andrew Lee