Long before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 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 parts of what is currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the objective was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment 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 sending over poorly 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, because the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years of comparative 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 anxious to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were pushed off the land in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were influenced 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, were living to the west of the Mississippi River. These American Indians, some from the Northwestern and Southeastern territories, were confined to Indian Territory located in present day 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 encountered adversity as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these various 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically 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 extended journey westward. As a result, 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.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations 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 a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau within the War Department referred to as 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, independent political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing massive 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 generally helped settlers get across 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To quiet these anxieties, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed never to attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make 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 to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold 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 policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear 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 chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people did not properly grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went 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 needed more property in the West, the federal government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 concluded that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term method of 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 relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to impose federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to establish private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and serving up 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 approach to life but failed to provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had expected. It also developed anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them on to 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 reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.