Centuries 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 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 regions of what is now the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the goal was to explore 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 rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years 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 impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They needed 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 that were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were pushed 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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, approximately 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 area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered misfortune 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of land within 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 willing to make the huge trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and 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 implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, distinct political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force 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 flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers get across 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to ever attack 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 amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions 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 tales of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved 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 demanded more property in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy changed considerably following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government officials perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent strategy for guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to increase private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime land 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 policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet didn’t provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost more than 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had anticipated. Aside from that it produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural centre of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to 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 alone, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian plans shoved them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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