Way before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its culture and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful with no 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 restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were moved away from the territory in question.
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 areas inhabited 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 located in contemporary 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 encountered misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of land under 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 alluring possibilities for those prepared make the long journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures established and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to execute 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, separate political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes committing 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 routinely helped settlers get across 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 risk of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government presented a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed never to attack 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration 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 deals had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people didn’t properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government continually reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was too strict even while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of living. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their existence 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 part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to increase non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own block of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and providing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life yet failed to offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people had lost over two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had intended. It also produced resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian policies coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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