Way 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 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 today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here knew their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed years 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 additional 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 arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were moved off the territory in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were influenced by the desire to expand westward into territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, approximately 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 located in contemporary 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 experienced hardship as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these diverse groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century in the United States was marked by its continual 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States practically doubled the amount of acreage under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those prepared make the huge trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau inside the War Department called the 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, distinct political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 tracks 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 signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t completely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to maintain 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 reacted to these conflicts with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted radically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was far too severe 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 lone permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting strategy for guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
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 created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and producing prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet failed to 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 land. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of 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.
Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land 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, as the creators of the Act had expected. Further, it created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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