Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions and legacy without disturbance. 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 tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just 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


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly uniformly ignored after the Indians were pushed off 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 regions inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, approximately 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 area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered adversity as the steady 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 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 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 willing to make the huge quest westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts 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 operations established and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency 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 varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of cruel 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 generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 total 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 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 very long. After hearing tales of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to provide more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon 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 food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, 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 overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to maintain their territories 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 skirmishes with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This law 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 U.S. government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting strategy for protecting 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to implement federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this objective, the schools required students to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to establish private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and producing 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 generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet failed to provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage 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 cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and feed their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had desired. Further, it generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal center of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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