Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions and heritage without disturbance. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the plan 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly uniformly ignored after the Indians were forced off the land 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, approximately 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 land 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 inhabited by these various groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century of 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of acreage under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those willing to make the extended quest westward. As a result, 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations 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 nation, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency 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 force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 often helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.
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To soothe these concerns, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last very long. After hearing stories 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 plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more land for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t properly understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress imagined that it would be easier 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 officials looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means of guaranteeing 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved 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 supply the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had desired. This also developed animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social location of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer 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 permanently.
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