The Early Oregon Legislature, the Provisional Government, establish in 1843, began taking action and making pronouncements to secure their place in Oregon and provide for the public welfare. I have scanned through the Oregon Archives (from Google Books, Thanks again!) and found numerous references to the tribes and treatment of the tribes in these early laws and policies. The earliest pronouncements and acts sought to include the Indians as equal free citizens, along with the rest of the multi-national matrix of Oregon.
Seeking to assure all peoples in Oregon and to keep the peace, even native people of the country were included in the early bills. This was highly strategic on the part of the settlers. The fact was that the tribes were being subjects to be forced off their lands while under national law they maintained aboriginal title.And the US was in a conflict with the British about where to draw the national borders in the region. Employees of Hudsons Bay Company had to be reassured that they would be respected in their claims and rights. other statements were made to assure free use of waterways for all as well. However, equality was short lived, as once bounties were declared on predatory animals, Indians were allowed to collect only one half the bounty of a white man.
In 1843 the government also pronounced that the Indians would be respected in utmost good faith, always. This was a awesome and progressive statement for the time, and even for our time, as good faith is not how we would characterize the state of Indian federal or state relations in our history. The statement would have little legitimacy as time went on as following the Whitman Massacre, feeling changed dramatically toward the tribes.
In 1847, following the Whitman Massacre the first changes occurred for the government of Oregon. They established a militia following an event at Willamette Falls and expanded the functions of the militia and size of the force dramatically in response to the Whitman massacre.
After this time, a state of war was considered to exist between the settlers and the Indians, especially the Cayuse. The Militia grew, and legislation began to appear to administer the settlers rights to lands by elimination of Indian title.
This was not the purpose of the state governments, nor once they were brought under the United States would they be allowed to deal with the tribes in this manner. The provisional government, regardless, began giving men titles, and Joel Palmer became the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon.
And then, perhaps destined, the legislature began commenting and making public policy on a number of “other” peoples in Oregon. Apparently, some people did not like Indians, Blacks, Mulattoes or Lunatics, and so in rapid order they passed pronouncements to administer these peoples. Interesting that they are all included in successive statements.
But Oregon was early on an anti-slavery territory, and there were early pronouncements by the future first governor of California, Burnett, to prevent slavery in Oregon. Interestingly, in the 1850s while in California, Burnett supported slavery.
All for today, perhaps another chapter later.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.