Ages 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture and heritage without disturbance. 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 much. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were forced away from the territory 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced adversity 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 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 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 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 opportunities for those prepared make the huge journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and operations made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored 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 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, distinct political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 repeatedly helped settlers cross 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 roads 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 total 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able 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 hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and tremendous 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 moving west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside 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 made Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not altogether understand the document that they were signing 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 administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 hostilities with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was far too strict 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 lone permanent strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress imagined that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to enforce federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the director 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 goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the region 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 property in order to pay bills and provide for their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had intended. This also created resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their property, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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