Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 culture and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this 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 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 transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here understood 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 anxious to find 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 shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were moved away 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 inhabited 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 contemporary 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 met hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those ready to make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made 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, separate political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of 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 stories of cruel 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 often helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 worries, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed never to attack 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 entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing tales of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lower the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many problems. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge 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 terms were never executed.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to defend 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 compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans into reservations was too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single long-term means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “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 grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of life. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully 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.” To be able to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic 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 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 achieve this, Congress needed to establish non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and producing prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet didn’t provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, 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 generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had anticipated. It also generated anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as 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 ended up defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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