Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, the tribes were spread throughout 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its customs 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 is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the goal 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

They required more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were forced off the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 territories 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 present day 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 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 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 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 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 possibilities for those prepared make the huge quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began 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 regulations and procedures made and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies 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 made 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, distinct political communities with numerous 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 traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 generally helped settlers cross 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To calm these anxieties, 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 pledged to not assault 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 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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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to provide more land for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to give up their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many problems. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful 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 effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans into reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This law signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed 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 believed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means 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 homes and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To speed up the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully 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.” To be able to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute 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 existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to create non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own stretch of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, 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 every 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 hoped that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property 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 existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet didn’t provide the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about 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 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. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had intended. Further, it created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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