Long 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 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 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 quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the aim was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive 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 needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly uniformly ignored after the Indians were forced away from the land in question.
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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 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 experienced adversity as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of acreage under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 alluring possibilities for those ready to make the long journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations 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 first became an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside the War Department called the 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” 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 certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers get across 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 tracks 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 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 between their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord 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 limiting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more land 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 allocated a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people 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 preserve 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was far 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 single long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed 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 viewed assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term means of 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per 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 goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their original 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 important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to increase private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet did not supply the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, 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 purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell their land in order pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had desired. Further, it generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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