This is in response to a discussion about the Oregon Trail on a Smithsonian page that took a turn when someone noted the "theft" of the western lands from the original inhabitants.
...and one person said they had understood that the natives of the plains and westward did not practice "ownership" of the land...
They had historic claim to being the occupiers of an area, and they fought with other tribes over hunting grounds and such. Ownership of land as such was not familiar to them. They also moved around some as climate changed and made one place more desirable than another, and so got into it with those who had already been there before them. The best book I know of to help one understand what happened 150 years or so ago to the Lakota is "Crazy Horse - The Strange Man of the Oglalas" by Mari Sandoz. She interviewed Lakota who knew him and his contemporaries, and people who heard stories from their parents who knew him and even fought with him. Before the numbers of white emigrants became too large, they were rather tolerant of those traveling the Oregon Trail, but Americans were fulfilling their "Manifest Destiny" and conquest was the norm in the world, (and appears to still be so) and so conflict was inevitable. For the most part, individuals were not the aggressors, but when communities were formed and especially when the Army became involved the natives became the enemy, and we know the rest of that story. I grew up where the primary inhabitants for centuries were one Plains Indian tribe or another, where buffalo were in such great numbers before whites took over that they could be felt shaking the ground before they were seen. The coming of Americans had the effect of completely changing the west, for better or worse, but certainly permanently. I, therefore, benefited from the vanquishing of the Lakota, but had nothing to do with that action, but I can regret many of the specifics of what happened. Stay at Ft. Robinson State Park, and you can stand where Crazy Horse was murdered (yes, that is the correct term), and you're not that far from Wounded Knee, which is a stain on our history, yet you can also go into town and shop next to a member of the Lakota, like I went to school with some. The past forms our present, but I am no more responsible for the actions of my people 150 years ago than I am for my Viking ancestors who terrorized western Europe 1000 years ago. But I can feel for the modern Lakota who are still on a reservation and have a hard time getting by, and support efforts to recognize our checkered history and rectify some things with the descendants of those who were wronged in the past.