Long 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 customs and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood 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 inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed 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 with no Indian help.

Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were moved off the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 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 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 encountered 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 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of territory within 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. As a result, 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.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    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 an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply 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 directly with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, independent political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes often helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 held 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 tracks and forts in this territory and pledged to never assault 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 peacefully 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 amongst 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 didn’t hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more property for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. 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 isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people did not 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 institutions responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the government continually decreased 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 land.

     

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    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized 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 deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent 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 move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation process, the government started Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the full 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 intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own plot of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of 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.

    Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had intended. Further, it created resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Due to 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 without limits, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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