This webinar juxtaposes Seneca leader Ely S. Parker’s vision for Indian policy in the early 1870s with the policy of extreme assimilation that state and federal governments adopted by the 1880s. During his time as Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Grant’s Peace Policy, Parker envisioned an alternate relationship between Native nations and the United States, one that respected treaty terms and Native territories. This moment of radical possibility did not last, as proponents of extreme assimilation and land allotment thwarted Parker’s efforts. Back in New York, the Senecas worked throughout the nineteenth century to develop American-style agricultural lands and alter their diplomatic approaches to be more acceptable to federal and state officials. Despite these settler-approved advancements, the state released the Whipple Report in 1889 after an investigation of the conditions of Native Americans in New York. This report, rather than an introspective examination of the failures and limits of past policies that Parker worked to overcome, blames what the state perceived as their “Indian problem” on groups like the Senecas themselves. As New York fell in line with the federal government’s assimilationist policies, the state deemed their own project of assimilation a failure because the Senecas still resided in New York despite the states’ intention since the eighteenth century for them to disappear.
Elana Krischer holds a PhD in American History from the University at Albany-State University of New York. She is writing a history of Native futurity and settler colonialism entitled Empire State Interrupted: Seneca Sovereignty and Settler Debates Over Land, 1779-1889.