Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 developed its customs and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the narrative of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.

They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed away from the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were determined by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, were living 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 area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 practically doubled the amount of land within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 opportunities for those willing to make the huge journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures made and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency within 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes often helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total annual 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 entered into the treaty, even consented 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and tremendous 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more land for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the federal government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was far too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This law signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress imagined that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators viewed assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of life. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To hasten the assimilation course, the government set up Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with 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 expected that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property 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 living yet didn’t provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had intended. It also created animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social center of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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