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IPFS News Link • Property Rights

Indians, Property Rights, and Ayn Rand

•, Lawrence W. Reed

At Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C. on January 14, 1879, a remarkable Native American delivered a speech in which he implored,

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself—and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.

His name? Hin-mah-too-yah-latkekht (Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain), better known to us today as Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Chased by 2,000 men of the U.S. army cavalry in the summer and fall of 1877, he led 750 of his people 1,170 miles from eastern Oregon to Idaho, then Wyoming and Montana before surrendering in the Bear Paw Mountains near the Canadian border. There, he declared,

I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

The primary issue that started the five-month "Nez Perce War" was the federal government's breach of a treaty and its desire to forcibly confine the Nez Perce to a reservation of the government's choosing. Chief Joseph died in 1904. Neither he nor his people were allowed to return to their ancestral lands in northeastern Oregon. Some 3,500 Nez Perce live today on their reservation, which is entirely within Idaho.

Today, depending on whose numbers you trust, Native Americans comprise between 4 and 6.3 percent of the Montana population, compared to less than two percent nationwide. The largest tribe in the country is the Cherokee, at about 1.1 million, while the largest in the Treasure State is the Blackfeet, at 30,000.

A festering question concerning Native Americans is that of property rights, the extent to which the various tribes and their individual members possessed them—both when white settlers first arrived and even today.