The Trail of Broken Treaties (also known as the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan and the Pan American Native Quest for Justice ) was a cross-country protest that was staged in the autumn of 1972 in the United States by American Indian and First Nations organizations. The protest motivated the largest historical gathering of Native Americans seeking to bring national attention to injustices including violations of treaty agreements and inadequate living standards.
The eight organizations sponsoring the caravan included the American Indian Movement, the National Indian Brotherhood (a Canadian organization), the Native American Rights Fund, the National Indian Youth Council, the National American Indian Council, the National Council on Indian Work, National Indian Leadership Training, and the American Indian Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. In Minneapolis, American Indian Movement (AIM) headquarters, activists developed a Twenty-Point Position paper to define their demands.
The caravan began on the west coast of North America in October, with protesters traveling by car, bus, and van. It reached the nation's capital of Washington, D.C. in early November, the week before incumbent President Nixon's presidential election. This was the largest gathering ever in the capital of American Indians wanting to meet with government to discuss their needs and negotiate a new relationship.
The Nixon Administration refused to meet with the protesters to receive the Twenty-Point Position paper. Protesters believed they had been double-crossed and occupied the Department of Interior headquarters building, where Bureau of Indian Affairs national offices were located. During their occupation, some protesters destroyed records and deeds, burning papers in the building's corridors and lobbies, and vandalizing areas. The stand-off ended after about a week, with presidential aides negotiating with protest leaders. In these talks the federal government made concessions to the protesters, including further treaty negotiations.
The demonstration, although misrepresented by the media at the time, lead the American Indian Movement to spearhead future demonstrations advocating for Native American justice, such as the infamous Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973.
Summary of the Twenty-Point Position Paper
The following is a summary of the Twenty-Point Position Paper that was drawn up in 1972 by the American Indians, including Hank Adams and Carter Camp, who participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties. The paper was intended to assert the sovereignty of the Indian Nations.
- The United States Federal Government should retract the component of the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act which eliminated the power of the Indian Nations to contract constitutionally bound treaties with the U.S. government.
- The United States Federal Government should establish a Treaty Commission that will have the power to contract new treaties to ensure the future of the Indian Nations. In addition, it should be established that no terms of existing treaties can be violated.
- The Federal Government should pledge that they will meet with four American Indian representatives before June 2, 1974 in order to discuss the future of the Indian Nations. The national media should be present for this meeting.
- The President of the United States should establish a committee consisting of both Indians and non-Indians to examine treaty commitments and violations.
- Treaties that have not been ratified should be presented to the Senate.
- All American Indian peoples should be considered to be in treaty relations with the United States Federal Government.
- The United States Federal Government should ensure that there is judicial enforcement and protection of the treaty rights of American Indians.
- The United States Federal Government should provide a new system of federal court jurisdiction through which American Indians can address treaty or tribal rights. This system of jurisdiction must apply both in cases between American Indians and between American Indians and non-Indians. It is of utmost importance that leaders of the Indian Nations take part in the process of interpreting treaties.
- The Congress of the United States should relinquish their control over Indian Affairs and instead create a joint committee. This committee is to be called the "Committee on Reconstruction of Indian Relations and Programs". The members of the committee must be willing to commit significant amounts of their time to restructure Indian relations in America.
- By July 4, 1976 the United States Federal Government should restore a permanent Native American land area of no less than 110 million acres (450,000 km2). This area should be perpetually non-taxable by the federal government. In addition the Termination Acts of the 1950s and 1960s should be immediately repealed.
- There should be a revision of 25 U.S.C. 163. This revision will call for all Indian rights to be restored to individuals that have lost them due to issues with enrollment. In addition, American Indians must be able to qualify for membership in more than one tribe and not be prohibited from receiving dual benefits.
- Congress must repeal state laws passed under the Public Law 280. PL280 allows for people not belonging to the Indian community to gain control over governing in reservation areas. The law takes away American Indian's ability to govern themselves without external conflict.
- All violent offenses against Indians should be treated as federal crimes and the persons committing the crimes must face penalties under federal prosecution. Congress should also create a national federal Indian grand jury. This grand jury should consist only of Indians that are chosen by the President as well as by Indian people. In addition this jury will have jurisdiction over non-Indian peoples living on Indian reservations.
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs should be dismantled by 1976 and a new government structure that maintains Indian-Federal relations should be established.
- The new structure that will replace the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be called the "Office of Federal Indian Relations and Community Reconstruction".
- The "Office of Federal Indian Relations and Community Reconstruction" will promote equality between the Indian Nations and the federal government and seek to remedy the wrongdoings of the federal government against the American Indians.
- Congress should enact a statute that allows for trade, commerce, and transportation of Indians to remain outside the jurisdiction of the federal government. American Indians within reservation areas should have immunity from federal and state taxation.
- The United States government should recognize and protect the spiritual and cultural integrity of the Indian Nations.
- Forms of Indian organization should be consolidated so as to regain the unification of the Indian Nations.
- The United States Federal Government should focus on the improvement and creation of better housing, education, employment and economic development for the American Indians.
Representation in other media
- The documentary film Trudell, directed by Heather Rae, includes activist John Trudell discussing his part in the Trail Caravan, as well as the social context of the full action.
- Trail of Broken Treaties, Alan C. Downs, ABC-CLIO
- "Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper - An Indian Manifesto". American Indian Movement.
- Carter August Camp (obituary), Ponca City News, Dec. 30, 2013.
- Heppler, Jason A. Framing red power : the American Indian Movement, the trail of broken treaties, and the politics of media. OCLC 454140191.
- Trudell, a documentary by Heather Rae on YouTube
- Deloria, Vine, Jr. (1974). Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence. New York: Delacorte Press.
- Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan page
- Jason Heppler, Framing Red Power: Newspapers, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Politics of Media, an Internet history project, 2009-2016, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, includes links to extensive primary sources, including media
- 30th Anniversary Memory, Indian Country Today, 2002