Long 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 culture and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the intention was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber 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 rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of relative 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 driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were moved away from the territory 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, 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met misfortune as the constant stream 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 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 in addition to 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 land within 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those willing to make the huge journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing 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 regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to apply 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 directly 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 force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing 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 often helped settlers get across 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To calm these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 pledged never to 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even agreed 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 last very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to provide more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to maintain 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 responded to these conflicts 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 shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent 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 established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to impose federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and producing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but did not supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered 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 enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had desired. This also created anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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