Long before the terms Native American or Indian were created, the tribes were spread all over the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture and legacy without disturbance. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed away from the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, lived to the west of the Mississippi River. These American Indians, some from the Northwestern and Southeastern territories, were confined to Indian Territory situated in present day Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met hardship as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century in the United States was marked by its steady expansion to the Mississippi River. However, due to the Gadsden purchase, that lead to U.S. control of the borderlands of southern New Mexico and Arizona as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of territory under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves of European and Asian immigrants who wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations made and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau inside the War Department referred to as Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked closely with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, independent political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged to not assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total payments to the Indians. The Native American tribes responded quietly to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the government frequently decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.

    This legislation signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To speed the assimilation process, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to increase non-public ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had wished. Aside from that it created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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