In 1851, the US government passed the Indian Appropriations Act, creating reservation lands for Native Americans. For decades prior, the US government had forcefully moved and abused Native American tribes, most notably through the Indian Removal Act and subsequent Trail of Tears under President Andrew Jackson.
In placing them on reservations, the US government often forced Native Americans to live on subpar lands under harsh conditions. Reservation rules were also oppressive and unfamiliar. By 1887, the government took further action with the Dawes Act. President Grover Cleveland signed the act, which aimed to assimilate Native Americans into white culture and improve their lives. It did the opposite. By taking more land away from Native Americans, splitting up land they already held, depriving them of productive and profitable farmland, and sending them into abject poverty, the US government only made matters worse.
During the 20th century, Native American life was directly tied to the reservation system. Until the 1950s, most Native Americans lived on reservations. Today, the majority of Native Americans live in cities, but life on a reservation is still difficult for those who remain. Poverty, inadequate health care, crime, and alcohol abuse characterize reservation life - but so do cultural strength and pride in tradition.