Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For centuries, the American Indian developed its culture and legacy without disturbance. 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 plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

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

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back 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 inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were moved off the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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, 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 territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced misfortune as the steady 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 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of land within 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 attractive opportunities for those ready to 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 parts 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 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 local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency 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, separate political communities with varying 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 traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread 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 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these fears, 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make 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 agreed to end the hostilities between 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 agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold 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 allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to offer more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made 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 stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled 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 attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans into reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This law signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, 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 broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term method of guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To speed the assimilation process, the government set up Indian schools 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.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to establish private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own stretch 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, 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 territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and producing 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 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 small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had desired. Further, it produced resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because 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 these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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