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There are several historical examples of the U.S. government seizing ancestral land from Native Americans. The U.S. often acquired Native American land through dubious treaties, and later violated them to bolster expansion.
The U.S. government also forcibly removed Native Americans after former President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In Florida, more than 3,000 Native Americans were expelled from their land.
As Florida's governor, Republican Ron DeSantis has repeatedly stated his conviction that leaders need to fight attempts to "indoctrinate students" in classrooms.
In the only gubernatorial debate before the Nov. 8 election, Gov. DeSantis contrasted his record on education with that of Democratic challenger Charlie Crist and Crist's running mate Karla Hernández-Mats.
"You have people that are teaching — and actually his running mate has said this in the past — that teaching the United States was built on stolen land," DeSantis said Oct. 24. "That is inappropriate for our schools; it's not true."
We wondered what DeSantis was referring to and whether he was right in his assessment of whether the U.S. was built on "stolen land."
DeSantis' campaign did not get back to us. But his remark echoed tweets from Christina Pushaw, rapid response director for DeSantis' re-election campaign. One tweet included a screenshot of a June 24, 2018, Facebook post from United Teachers of Dade, where Hernández-Mats, a former special education teacher, has been president since 2016.
The Facebook post included an image of a sign that read: "No one is illegal on stolen land." Hernández-Mats did not respond to specific questions about the image. The post was shared at a time when U.S. immigration policies were dominating the news.
We reached out to historians of Native and non-Native descent. All of them said it is well documented that the U.S. acquired Native American land through dubious treaties and, at times, forcefully confiscated ancestral territories to bolster the country's expansion.
"As a general statement, yes, the United States stole land from Native Americans," said Philip Deloria, a Native American history professor at Harvard University.
Sometimes the U.S. and Native American tribes struck treaties that defined boundaries and determined land sale prices and forms of compensation.
Other times, tribes signed land-ceding agreements under duress.
Deloria said the U.S. often placed compensation for these deals in U.S.-controlled trust funds or promised payment over a number of years, but then failed to follow through.
Email interview with Philip Deloria, a professor of Native American history at Harvard University, Oct. 28, 2022
Email interview with Andrew Frank, a Florida State University professor who specializes in the history of the Seminoles, Nov. 1, 2022
Email interview with Randy Woodley, director of intercultural and indigenous studies at George Fox University, Nov. 2, 2022
Email interview with Delanie Bromar, spokesperson for DeSantis' campaign, Oct. 31, 2022
Email interview with Sam Ramirez, spokesperson for Crist's campaign, Oct. 28, 2022
Florida State University, "A Very Brief History of the Seminoles," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
U.S. Department of State, "Indian Treaties and the Removal Act of 1830," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
The National Archives and Records Administration, "Sioux Treaty of 1868," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
The National Archives and Records Administration, "Black Hills Treaty," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
The National Archives and Records Administration, "Treaty of Fort Laramie," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
The National Archives and Records Administration, "President Andrew Jackson's Message to Congress 'On Indian Removal’," accessed Nov. 3, 2022
Justia, "United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
Merriam-Webster, "steal," accessed Oct. 28, 2022
The South Dakota State Historical Society, The Sioux Nation and Indian Territory: The Attempted Removal of 1876, accessed Oct. 28, 2022
U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, accessed Oct. 28, 2022
U.S. Court of Claims, United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, accessed Oct. 28, 2022
National Geographic, The United States Government’s Relationship with Native Americans, accessed Oct. 28, 2022
Digital Public Library of America, An 1837 message from Brigadier General John E. Wool to the Cherokee Nation warning them of the consequences of resisting removal, accessed Nov. 3, 2022
American Indian: The Magazine of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, Summer/Fall 2014 issue
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