Centuries 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 land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For centuries, the American Indian developed its customs and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.

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 plenty. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience 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 sent the first ships in this direction, the plan was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather 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 transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here learned that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of relative 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly ignored after the Indians were pushed away from the territory 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 areas occupied 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 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 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 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States practically doubled the amount of acreage 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 attractive opportunities for those willing to make the extended journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about 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 operations 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 nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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 varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government presented a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make annual payments to the Indians. The Native American tribes responded peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who entered into 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 moving west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government rarely 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 meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for land.

     

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    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 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 force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted 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 pushing Native Americans onto reservations was far too strict while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it was 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 representatives considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent strategy for protecting 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to enforce federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation course, the government started Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created 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 substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create non-public ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and serving up 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 existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet failed to supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had expected. Aside from that it developed anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and social hub of their days.

     

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

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian policies forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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