Way 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.

For centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions and heritage 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 currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber 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 carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure 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 independence and adventure.

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

It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were forced away from 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into areas inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 situated in contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century of the United States was marked by its continual 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 United States practically doubled the amount of land under 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 captivating opportunities for those ready to make the extended trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas 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 developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, distinct political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 tracks and forts in this territory and pledged to never 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to provide more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government frequently decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite for land.

     

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    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to defend 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 force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these hostilities with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.

    This legislation signaled a major shift 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 “” 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 officials looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent means of insuring 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 established dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation course, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear 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 classic 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 handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. 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 rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet failed to offer the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, 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 purchased by white settlers.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had wished. Further, it generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as 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 had been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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