Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 traditions and heritage 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 quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable 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 intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here learned their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.

Thus followed years 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 find 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 notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed from 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 determined by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 contemporary 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 misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically 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 captivating possibilities for those prepared 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 areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and operations 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 an independent country, it implemented 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 requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau within the War Department referred to as 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, independent 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, hand over their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and agreed to never 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 to be able to accept the conditions 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 last 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 plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, in order to provide more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave 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 lower the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many problems. Most of all 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 consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust 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 attempt to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting method of guaranteeing 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 established dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.

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

    To speed up the assimilation process, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the director 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 compelled students to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute 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 full control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own plot of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian supervision and providing prime land 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 existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not supply the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had intended. It also produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to 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 alone, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, 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 didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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