Far 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 traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale 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 discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently 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 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 soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood 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 pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

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

It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed away 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into regions inhabited 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 area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of land under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 ready to make the long trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts 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 regulations and procedures made and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau inside 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, independent political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out 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 generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these anxieties, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to grant more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced 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 agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for land.

     

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    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to preserve their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a 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 incursions with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This law signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 presumed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent means 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To boost 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 developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, 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 helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to increase private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own parcel of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small 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 every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration 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 generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet didn’t provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the people had lost over 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.

    Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had expected. Aside from that it created resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social location of their days.

     

    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 because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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