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 land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions 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’s now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate 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
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here learned their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years of comparative 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 locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed 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 notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were forced away from the land 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 areas inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 situated 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 experienced adversity as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of territory within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 prepared make the extended trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building 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 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 a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
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, independent 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, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing massive 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 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 roads 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 total 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 amongst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold long. After hearing tales of fertile land and great 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 heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to provide more property 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 given a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never carried out.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite 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, battled back. As they struggled to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort 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 of a change.
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Native American policy shifted radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular long-term strategy for ensuring 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 entities.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term method of 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 relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and offering each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life but failed to provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost more than 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had intended. It also developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal location of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them on to 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 fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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