Sacred Land History Timeline

All around the Earth, decade after decade, indigenous people protected sacred places and resisted when sites were threatened. Explore key events and look for patterns in this important history.

1788-12-01 00:00:00

Colonists claim Australia using terra nullius doctrine

Doctrine of terra nullius, no one’s land, was used by British colonizers to claim the right of occupancy of Australia by ignoring the 50,000 years of aboriginal occupation. The doctrine was upheld until the 1992 Mabo v. Queensland decision overturned it and recognized native title to land.

1823-03-10 00:00:00

Doctrine of Discovery

The Supreme Court uses Doctrine of Discovery to invalidate Native American claims to or possession of land. Chief Justice John Marshall invoked the Doctrine that holds that title to lands lay with the government whose subjects traveled to and occupied a territory whose inhabitants were not subjects of a European Christian monarch. It was used for collusive lawsuits that resulted in lands being taken from Native Americans. Johnson v. M’Intosh and two related Supreme Court (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia(1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832)) comprised the Marshall Trilogy.

1851-09-09 00:00:00

Cottonwood Treaty

Signed by Shasta County Native Californians ceding a vast territory to the United States in exchange for a 35-mile by 35-mile square reservation along the Sacramento River. The California legislature lobbied against the treaty preventing ratification of any of the 18 treaties signed “in peace and friendship” by tribes throughout California. Instead of establishing the reservations called for in the treaties, Congress ordered the building of forts to house soldiers to protect the whites from the Indians, and the establishment of military Indian reservations to house Indians. The unratified Cottonwood Treaty was found locked in a closet in Washington, D.C., many years later.

1851-09-17 00:00:00

Fort Laramie Treaty

Between the United States and representatives of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations. The treaty sets forth traditional territorial claims of the tribes as agreed among themselves.

1874-09-09 00:00:00

Custer finds gold in Black Hills

A military expedition led by George Armstrong Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills and set off a gold rush. Encroachment on Lakota sacred land and Fort Laramie Treaty violations led to the Black Hills War of 1876 in which Custer was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

1889-11-07 00:00:00

NorelPutus letter to President Harrison

Native elders from the Mt. Shasta area send a letter to the U.S. president asking for justice and the return of land taken from Wintu and Yana people of northern California.

1890-12-01 00:00:00

Ghost Dance unites Native Americans

The Ghost Dance, based on the traditional Circle Dance, was a new religious movement adopted by many Native American tribes. It was part of a vision of being "taken up into the spirit world” experienced by the Paiute prophet Wovoka. He said that practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead, and bring peace, prosperity and unity to native peoples throughout the region. The practice spread, unifying and giving hope to many Native American tribes. This Bureau of Indian Affairs feared Wovoka's prophetic message would ignite an "uprising" among Sioux warriors who had fought and won at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The BIA called for U.S. Army troops to be sent to the reservation. They decided to arrest Sitting Bull to slow the Ghost Dance Movement, but the arrest resulted in Sitting Bull's murder by the troops. Sitting Bull’s murder was one of the triggers leading to the Wounded Knee Massacre.

1890-12-29 00:00:00

Wounded Knee Massacre

Treaty violations, the arrest and killing of Sitting Bull and growing resistance in the form of the Ghost Dance triggered the December 29, 1893 massacre of as many as 300 Lakota men, women and children by the U.S. 7th Cavalry. Ongoing treaty violations and threats to the sacred Paha Sapa (Black Hills), Mato Tipila (Devils Tower), and Matho Paha (Bear Butte) led to an occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement in 1973.

1893-01-01 00:00:00

Coup Ousts Hawaiian Queen Lili‘uokalani

Queen Lili‘uokalani and the Kingdom of Hawai‘i were overthrown by businessmen assisted by U.S. Marines. Queen Liliʻuokalani was placed under house arrest in the Iolani Palace, and the queen issued a statement yielding her authority to the United States Government rather than to the Provisional Government: - I, Lili‘uokalani, by the Grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom. That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu and declared that he would support the said Provisional Government. Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps loss of life, I do, under this protest, and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands. — Queen Lili‘uokalani, Jan 17, 1893

1894-09-09 00:00:00

Maori Protect Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand

For the first time in world history, indigenous people gifted a sacred place to a national government as a strategy to protect it, creating Tongariro National Park.

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