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 grew its traditions and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.
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 much. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. 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 our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of environment 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 transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful without 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 restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
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 notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were forced from the land 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 regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 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 steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of land 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 captivating possibilities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about 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 made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau within 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 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 flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out massive 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 repeatedly helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted 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 soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 amidst their tribes in order 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 stand very long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples did not altogether understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, 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 weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands 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 fought to defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 skirmishes with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular long-term method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a major change 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 U.S. government, Congress presumed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent means of protecting 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to enforce federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. 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 make this happen objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, put on proper American fashion 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 start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute 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 intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to establish non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, also known 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual acreage was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the cost 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 decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet did not supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and provide for their 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 desired. Aside from that it generated resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation 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 tremendously. Due to 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 without limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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