Long 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its customs and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the aim was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful with no native 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 restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were moved from the land in question.
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, 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 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 experienced hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of land 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 captivating opportunities for those ready to make the huge journey westward. Therefore, 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 tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations established 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau within 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 frequently helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these fears, 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 tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to assault 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 quietly 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 between their tribes in order 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 stand very long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to give more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people did not completely 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 administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled 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 effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too strict even while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
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 jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress imagined that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term 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 homes and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of living. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per 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 make this happen objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to increase non-public ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. 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 remaining land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and serving up 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 regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet failed to supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had wished. This also created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes as 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 these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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