Way before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 developed its traditions 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 today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the plan was to explore new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently 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 slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.

They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were moved away from the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity 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 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of land within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the huge trip westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to summarize 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 native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency within 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 varying 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 stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing widespread 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 often helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk 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 consented to 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 gross 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 signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order 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 last very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to surrender their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t entirely 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 bureaus accountable for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government frequently reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant hunger for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    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 lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed considerably following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as nations 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 widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent means of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. 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 organized tribunals to enforce federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To hasten the assimilation operation, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to establish non-public ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own parcel of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, also referred to 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian supervision and providing prime property to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet failed to provide the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of 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.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and provide for their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had anticipated. This also generated anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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