Indigenous Land Dispossession

Historical Background: Indigenous groups throughout New York State and the United States experienced the loss of their land from initial European contact through the early 1900s. Land dispossession was a gradual process brought about by European migration, disease, and state and federal policy. While misunderstandings and deliberate dishonesty have long been debated, the results are undeniable. The land originally inhabited by indigenous groups was greatly diminished and the populations decimated through the process of land dispossession. 

Setting the Stage
Introduce students to an online map of their community like Google Maps. Hand out a map of their same community from the 1800s. Ask students to think about and discuss what would happen if everyone started using the map from the 1800s to make decisions about who could use the property in their community instead of using the modern map.

Learning Standards and Practices
7.2 COLONIAL DEVELOPMENTS: European exploration of the New World resulted in various interactions with Native Americans and in colonization. The American colonies were established for a variety of reasons and developed differently based on economic, social, and geographic factors. Colonial America had a variety of social structures under which not all people were treated equally.

(Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4; Themes: MOV, GEO, ECO, TECH, EXCH)
7.2b Different European groups had varied interactions and relationships with the Native American societies they encountered. Native American societies suffered from loss of life due to disease and conflict and loss of land due to encroachment of European settlers and differing conceptions of property and land ownership.
Ø Students will compare and contrast British interactions with southern New England Algonquians, Dutch and French interactions with the Algonquians and Iroquoians, and Spanish interactions with Muscogee.
Ø Students will investigate other Native American societies found in their locality and their interactions with European groups.
Ø Students will examine the major reasons why Native American societies declined in population and lost land to the Europeans.
A. Gathering, Interpreting and Using Evidence
5. Make inferences and draw general conclusions from evidence.
D. Geographic Reasoning
6. Describe the spatial organization of place, considering the historical, social, political, and economic implication of that organization. Describe how boundaries and definition of location are historically constructed. 

Land Deed, 1657

Supporting Question 1: How did possession of land change from the time of the first European contact to the American Revolution?

Formative Assessment: Using evidence from the deed and the maps, explain the changes in Indigenous land possession before the American Revolution.


A drawn Map of Colonel Romer's journey amongst the five Nations confederated with Her Majesty on the Continent of America, 1700

Indian Deed for Staten Island, July 10 1657

Photo of portion of Indian Deed, dated May 29, 1757

Map of the Present War in North America, 1757

Map of the State of New York, 1788

Supporting Question 2: How did the possession of land change from the time of the American Revolution to the 20th century?

Formative Assessment: Using evidence from the maps, explain the change in indigenous land possession after the American Revolution.


Map of the State of New York, 1788

Map of the State of New York, 1793-4

Map of Oneida Reservation, 1810

Outline Map of New York with Indian Reservations, 1910

Woman with Basket and Bead Work

Supporting Question 3: What impact did land dispossession have on the indigenous groups in New York State?

Formative Assessment: Using evidence from the census data, maps, and photographs, explain the effects of land dispossession on the Onondaga. 


Map of Onondaga Reservation

Google Earth map of Onondaga Reservation

Woman with Baskets and Bead Work

Onondaga Children on Reservation

Summative Assessment: What role do maps play in the social, political, and economic standing of a group or individual in society?

Extension: Research the location of American Indian groups during the American Revolution. How did their location influence their role in the war?
Taking Informed Action: ‚ÄčAre there current issues in your community related to geography (water usage, location of schools, transportation, etc.)? If so, think of ways you could help solve one of these issues.