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 territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For centuries, the American Indian developed its customs 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 is currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the aim was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment 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 carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed off 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 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 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 delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of acreage within 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 huge quest 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.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures 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 an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing 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 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated 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. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the conditions 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 testimonies of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most of all many of the native people didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands 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 fought to protect 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 coerce 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 policies required of a change.
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Native American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting method of insuring 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 passed laws that required Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the start 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 intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to create private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing 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 disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet failed to provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people 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 purchased by white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and provide for their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had anticipated. This also produced resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social center of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian policies coerced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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