Long 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is now the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. 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 plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In 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 that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were moved from the territory 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, 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 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 adversity as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century of 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of territory within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves of European and Asian immigrants who wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the huge quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began 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 procedures established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, distinct political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of cruel 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 routinely helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 presumed the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged to not assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 amongst 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 hold very long. After hearing tales 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly 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 government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought 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 attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans into reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular permanent method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent nations.
This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term means of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To boost the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, better known as 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 remaining land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost more than 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 forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had intended. This also produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes 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 all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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