I have sometimes thought that a lot of trouble could have been avoided if Native Americans had chosen to peacefully give up their lands to White settlers back during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially considering that Native Americans of that time period did not believe in land ownership and thus they did not legally own any of the land they had been living on for thousands of years.

Moreover, in the interest of maintaining peaceful relationships with White settlers, Native Americans should have seen the wisdom in proactively relocating their villages further and further westward across the country as more and more White settlers moved westward across this country.

Should Native Americans have peacefully given up their lands to White settlers during the 18th and 19th centuries?


2 Answers 2


Your presumptions about land ownership are flawed. Native Americans had the concept of national ownership, which is based upon the principle that a group or community resident in an area has ownership rights to the area they reside. They generally did not have individual ownership principles over land -- but different nations have thru history often not recognized each other's legal system over individual property rights.

Your question also lacks any definition/characterization of "should". This is a moral question, which then requires a moral reference frame, which is a subject in radical dispute across the world and within philosophy.

Under most moral thinking, the theft of land from one community by another, is immoral, and "should" not be done. Land theft by European nations from native American nations was the cause of the genocide and displacement of native Americans continent-wide, and both genocide and ethnic cleansing are widely recognized as crimes against humanity, far worse than just "theft". So the details of this theft which played out in the US over the 18th and 19th centuries, are a catalog of crimes against humanity conducted by the US against native American communities.

The appropriate moral "should" that one can apply to this history is that the US "should" not have made use of its superior numbers and technology to steal land from other nations. And if the theft were done anyway, then the US "should" have followed the Geneva Convention on treatment of civilians and property in occupied lands, rather than practice ethnic cleansing and genocide instead.

There is no moral "should" that calls for the victims of crimes against humanity to accommodate and cooperate with those crimes.

  • Dcleve, you bring up a good point that this is somewhat of a moral question, so I added the 'Ethics' tag to my question.
    – user57467
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:07
  • Native Americans had the concept of national ownership [citation needed]
    – user76284
    Dec 23, 2023 at 18:50
  • Those are very good points you make, especially your perspective on the proper treatment of civilians.
    – user57467
    Dec 23, 2023 at 19:57

So if an alien species came to visit your country you'd just move to another country proactively?

Also tribes that live off the land are usually well accustomed to a particular environment, know their plants and animals, prey and predators, what's edible and what's poisonous while moving into a different climate zone might rid them of their prior knowledge (or at least the ability to make use of that) and subject them to a lot of problems. So either way that would have been a troublesome journey.

Also "did not believe in land ownership" works both ways. Like not believing in ownership doesn't just mean that you don't claim something it also means that you don't consider any claim to be valid. Like if something is owned by everyone it is also owned by no one in particular, so there isn't a void in the sense of "no one owns it".

Why not go for the more obvious moral imperative of why didn't white settlers consider an already occupied country to be settled and not up for settlement?

  • @haxor979, your last sentence puts up an interesting perspective that I have never considered. I don't have an answer to that.
    – user57467
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .