Way 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture and heritage 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 quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful art 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 narrative of our ancestors. 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 vessels in our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades of comparative 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 restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They required more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected after the Indians were forced 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 situated 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 steady 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 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of territory under 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those willing to make the long journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building 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 regulations and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency within 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these concerns, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to ever 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 quietly 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 in order 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 stand long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and great 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to give more property for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most of all many of the native people did not entirely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government continually 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’ persistent appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to protect their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a 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 reacted to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies 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 pushing Native Americans inside reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole permanent strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it would be easier 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 administrators considered assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to enforce federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To speed up the assimilation course, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. 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 required students to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and offering each family their own parcel of land.

    In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian supervision and providing 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 generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living but didn’t provide the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted 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 their land in order pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had expected. It also created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased 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 forever.

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