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 centuries, the American Indian grew its customs and legacy 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 today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in this 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 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 sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades 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 impatient to find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were moved from the land in question.
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 areas inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 along with 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 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those willing to make the long 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 routinely helped settlers cross over 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 presumed the risk of an attack.
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To quiet these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 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 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 agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to provide more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government continually decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect 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 reacted to these incursions with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans on to reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed 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 imagined that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives perceived 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 pushed Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation operation, the government established Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. 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 goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to increase private ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing 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 given 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 expected that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and serving up 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 lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes 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 sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had desired. It also created anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians had been cheated out of their property, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them into 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 lowered to under 250,000 persons. Thanks to 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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