Ethnic Cleansing of Indiana

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Although in the United States we are more accustomed to thinking of ethnic cleansing as something that happens in other countries rather than in our own history, the term can be applied accurately to what happened to Native American cultures during the process of European colonization, and it undergirds the near total absence of African Americans and other minorities from the Indiana countryside. A population that is 95% white, especially in an area that once had a large native population and which borders the historically slave-holding upper South, doesn’t “just happen” without active policies and practices of removal and exclusion.

Indigenous Peoples of Contemporary Indiana

All non-indigenous citizens and residents of countries such as the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel, which have been established through white settler colonization, have to do emotional, intellectual, and cultural work to justify the fact that their very presence on the land is the result of a violent and discriminatory history—even if that work consists mainly of ignoring and forgetting the past and its consequences. Contemporary LGBT people are not exempt from this fundamental situation.

It is both tragic and ironic that there are no longer any federally recognized native tribes based in the state named “Indiana.” At the time of first contact with Europeans, the area surrounding what is now Bloomington was inhabited by the Shawnee people, neighbored to the west by the Illini Confederacy (several related tribes also referred to collectively as the Illinois peoples), and by the Miami to the north. In the post-contact period, several other native North American peoples migrated into or passed through southern Indiana, including the Lenape/Delaware, the Iroquois, the Muncie, the Nanticoke, the Potawatomi, and the Wyandot. Place names derived from native languages are practically the only trace left in contemporary Indiana by most of these cultures. (;)


Native cultures experienced great stress after initial contact with French traders in the 1670s, and under British rule beginning in the 1760s, but remained relatively intact until the United States won political independence. The citizens of the new country began pouring over the Appalachian Mountains into newly acquired territory, including Indiana, toward the end of the 18th century. Major military actions were required to break the native hold on territories now in Indiana, including the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. When Bloomington was founded, and the University of Indiana established, there were still scattered remnants of native peoples living in the area. Almost all remaining native peoples were forced to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma following the Indian Removal and Relocation Act of 1830. (

The Legacy of Slavery: African-Americans in Southern Indiana

There was never a strong African-American presence in southern Indiana in spite of the region being settled mostly by whites from slave-holding society in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Although slavery was illegal in Indiana under the federal Ordinance of 1787, early Indiana law permitted slave-owning immigrants to convert the master-slave relationship into a “contract for life.” That practice was eventually abandoned, due less to opposition to slavery than to racial intolerance—Hoosier citizens amended the Indiana state constitution in 1851 to forbid blacks from entering into or residing in the state. (

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