Far before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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.
[ssad ssadblk=”Book choice”]For thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture 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 today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the experience 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 aim was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were moved away from the land 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 regions 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 located 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 pushed 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of territory under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 ready to make the extended journey westward. As a result, 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 regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations 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 created a new agency inside the War Department called the 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, separate political communities with different 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 culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories 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 often helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these concerns, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing 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, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to offer more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. 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 isolated from the whites in order to reduce the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many complications. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t entirely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the government frequently decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes 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 changed considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans into reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation signaled a drastic 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 “” government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method of protecting 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 houses and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal regulations 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 founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to increase private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, 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 every family be awarded 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 expected that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and providing prime land to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but failed to offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had expected. This also created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. 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 limits, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.