top of page

Reservation System and Broken Promises

The reservation system in the United States, established in the 19th century, was intended to provide a separate and protected space for Native American tribes to maintain their traditional ways of life. However, the implementation of this system has been fraught with broken promises, resulting in a long-standing pattern of government neglect, mismanagement, and exploitation. The following report examines the origins of the reservation system, its impacts on tribal nations, and the ongoing challenges related to broken promises.

Origins of the Reservation System

The reservation system emerged as part of the U.S. government's efforts to manage its relationships with Native American tribes and to facilitate the expansion of Euro-American settlements. Reservations were designated tracts of land set aside for the exclusive use of indigenous people, often established through treaties or executive orders. The intention was to isolate tribes from white settlers, to protect tribal lands and resources, and to enable indigenous people to continue their traditional ways of life.

However, many reservations were established on marginal lands, lacking access to critical resources such as water and fertile soil. Additionally, the process of relocating tribes to reservations often involved coercion, deception, or force, resulting in further trauma and dislocation for indigenous communities.

Broken Promises and Government Mismanagement

The implementation of the reservation system has been characterized by a litany of broken promises and government mismanagement. Some of the key issues include:

Treaty violations: The U.S. government frequently failed to uphold its treaty obligations, including promises to provide essential services, protect tribal lands, and respect tribal sovereignty. This pattern of broken promises has undermined the trust between indigenous communities and the government, contributing to ongoing social and economic challenges.

Loss of land and resources: Despite the establishment of reservations, tribal nations have continued to lose land and resources due to the encroachment of white settlers, fraudulent land dealings, and government policies that prioritized non-Native interests.

Mismanagement of trust resources: The government has a fiduciary responsibility to manage and protect tribal trust resources, such as land, water, and mineral rights. However, numerous instances of mismanagement, corruption, and neglect have been documented, leading to the exploitation and loss of valuable resources for tribal nations.

Ongoing Challenges and the Path Forward

The legacy of the reservation system and broken promises continues to impact tribal nations, presenting ongoing challenges and barriers to self-determination and prosperity:


Socioeconomic disparities: Many Native American communities on reservations face significant socioeconomic disparities, including high rates of poverty, unemployment, and limited access to quality education and healthcare. These disparities are directly linked to the historical patterns of broken promises and government mismanagement.


Jurisdictional issues: Conflicts over jurisdiction and authority between tribal, state, and federal governments persist, complicating the ability of tribes to exercise their sovereignty and manage their own affairs.


Cultural and environmental concerns: Indigenous communities on reservations face ongoing threats to their cultural heritage and the environment, due to government neglect and the prioritization of non-Native interests.

To address these challenges and work towards rebuilding trust, it is essential for the U.S. government to take concrete steps to honor its treaty obligations, respect tribal sovereignty, and invest in the well-being and self-determination of indigenous communities. This includes providing adequate funding and support for essential services, collaborating with tribal nations on the management of trust resources, and engaging in meaningful consultation and partnership to address shared challenges. Only by acknowledging and addressing the legacy of broken promises and the reservation system can we begin to forge a more equitable and just relationship between the United States government and Native American tribes.

bottom of page