Native American reservations are located within the US and are managed by the tribe that they belong to under the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. Tribal members living on these lands exercise a certain degree of sovereignty, led by the tribal council, and may have different laws than surrounding areas. Designating these reservations to Native American groups came after years of forced removal and assimilation efforts by colonizers. Below is some information regarding the largest reservations in the US.
Most Heavily Populated Reservations
The Navajo Nation reservation is spread out over parts of the three states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. It is the largest reservation in the country with 27,096 square miles that 300,500 people call home. This area was designated after the signing of the 1868 Navajo Treaty with the US government. The government here was established during the 1920’s after oil was discovered and oil companies wanted to explore the deposits. Today, they have reorganized into 3 branches, namely the executive, judicial, and legislative. The Navajo governance system is considered one of the most organized.
The Osage Nation is located in Oklahoma and is comprised of 2,304 square miles that is inhabited by 44,437 people. Their territory once extended throughout present-day Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. In 1808, they signed the Osage Treaty which turned over more than 52 million acres to the US government in exchange for US protection against other tribes settled near “white” villages. In 2006, the Osage changed their government and adopted a constitutional form which is modeled after the US government with the same 3 branches.
The Yakama reservation is the 3rd largest in the US and home to 31,799 people. It is located on 2,188 square miles in Washington state. A treaty was signed in 1855 between the then-territory of Washington and tribal representatives. In the treaty, the Yakama nation relinquished over 10 million acres to the US government reserving the right to hunt and fish on the lands and stipulating 2 years time to vacate the premise. The Washington governor did not respect the 2 year stipulation and 2 weeks later, opened the land to white setters. The treaty was disputed among members, the driving force behind the Yakima War.
The Flathead nation, with 2,057 square miles in Montana, is number 4 on the list. The Hellgate Treaty of 1855 established this reservation and forced the tribes to give up over 20 million acres to the US. They lost more land in 1904. However, in 1940, they began buying back historic land from the government. The primary economic activity of the 26,172 people who live here, is the timber industry.
Wind River Reservation
Located in Wyoming, the Wind River reservation comes in next with a population of 23,250 people living on 3,532 square miles. The Wind River nation was established in 1868 and in 1906, the tribes ceded more land to the US government. In December 2013, the tribe won back some sovereignty when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted environmental enforcement jurisdiction to the reservation authorities.
Other Major Reservations
The previously mentioned reservations represent the top 5 in population sizes. There are hundreds of reservations throughout the US with very small populations. The remaining 5 all have more than 12,000 people living on the lands. These include the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota (20,762 people on 1,975 square miles), Uintah-Ouray in Utah (19,182 people on 6,825 square miles), Nez Perce in Idaho (17,959 people on 1,204 square miles), Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Nebraska (15,521 people on 3,472 square miles), and Fort Apache in Arizona (12429 people on 2,631 square miles).
Life on Reservations
Today, life on many reservations has been compared to the developing world. Common health issues include malnutrition, diabetes, high infant mortality, and alcoholism. All of these are driven by the rampant poverty and lack of economic opportunities available on tribal lands. These are indicators of a much more complicated problem rooted in structural violence. The US Bureau of Indian Affairs, set with the responsibility of managing tribal affairs to their benefit, has been criticized with having done everything but that. Often times, the mismanagement of assets and land ownership issues, and complicated environmental and economic regulations, have worked to discourage new development and investments.
Biggest Indian Reservations In The United States
|Rank||Reservation, State(s)||Population; Land Area|
|1||Navajo Nation, Arizona-New Mexico-Utah||300,500; 27,096 square miles|
|2||Osage, Oklahoma||44,437; 2,304 square miles|
|3||Yakama, Washington||31,799; 2,188 square miles|
|4||Flathead, Montana||26,172; 2,057 square miles|
|5||Wind River, Wyoming||23,250; 3,532 square miles|
|6||Rosebud, South Dakota||20,762; 1,975 square miles|
|7||Uintah-Ouray, Utah||19,182; 6,825 square miles|
|8||Nez Perce, Idaho||17,959; 1,204 square miles|
|9||Pine Ridge, South Dakota-Nebraska||15,521; 3,472 square miles|
|10||Fort Apache, Arizona||12,429; 2,631 square miles|