Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were created, the tribes were spread throughout 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 disturbance. And that history is captivating.

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 narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive 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 driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored once the Indians were pushed 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 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, 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 contemporary 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 met hardship as the continuous 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of acreage under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 attractive possibilities for those willing to make the extended quest westward. Therefore, 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 procedures developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out massive 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 repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 to not go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 consented to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able 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 didn’t hold long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more territory for “” 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 given a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear 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 potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples did not entirely understand 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 accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.

     

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    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, some 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 reacted to these incursions with significant military operations. Obviously 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 drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.

    This law signaled a major 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 concluded 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 officials considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting strategy for 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 move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To boost the assimilation process, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. 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 achieve this objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their existence 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 important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to increase private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.

    In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. 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 residual land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian administration and producing prime property to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet did not offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of 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.

    Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had desired. It also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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