Centuries 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its traditions and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed decades of comparative 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 restless 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 almost uniformly ignored once the Indians were pushed from 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 determined by the desire to expand westward into territories 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 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 misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 in addition to 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 territory 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those prepared make the huge journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing 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 made and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau inside 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, independent political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing widespread 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 frequently helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To calm these worries, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged to never 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 consented to end the hostilities between their tribes in order 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 last long. After hearing tales 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, in order to offer more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender 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 cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices 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 terms were never carried out.

    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 frequently sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the federal 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 hunger for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans into reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent entities.

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

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent method of protecting 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 houses and grow into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To speed the assimilation operation, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to 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 achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant 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 accomplish this, Congress planned to increase non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own block of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime property to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living yet didn’t offer the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost over 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 off their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had wished. This also generated anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes 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 ended up cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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