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The Cover
May 20, 2009

See-non-ty-a, An Iowa Medicine Man

JAMA. 2009;301(19):1966. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.463

In 1820, the fertile eastern woodlands of the United States were shared by approximately 8 million white citizens, 2 million African Americans, and 325 000 Indians. However, from the point of view of white planters, miners, and land speculators, the Indians were a barrier to progress. In support of their position, President Andrew Jackson proposed that the eastern Indians be “removed” from their lands for the mutual benefit of the whites and the Indians. Speaking to the US Congress, President Jackson advised that Indian removal would “place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters” and enable Indians to “cast off their savage habits” and become civilized. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. By 1844, when the artist and ethnographer George Catlin (1796-1872) painted his portrait of the Iowa medicine man See-non-ty-a (cover), white Americans had moved all but about 30 000 of the Indians off their lands by means of invasion, harassment, confiscation, intimidation, and force. In the meantime Catlin, who had foreseen the end of the Indian way of life, had made it his personal mission to save as much of the vanishing Native American culture as he could by painting tribesmen and women in their traditional dress.

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