Far 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 customs 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 is currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale 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 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 this direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate 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 sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here understood 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 drive 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 freedom and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored once the Indians were moved from the territory 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 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 experienced hardship as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating opportunities for those willing to make the long journey westward. Therefore, 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 areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures 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 country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency 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, separate political communities with different 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 customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 not 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 necessities 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 possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government placed a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to ever go after 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able 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 reports of fertile land 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to offer more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to pave 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 lessen the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the federal government constantly decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for land.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to protect 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it was better 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 officials looked at assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “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 urged Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government set up 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 designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their daily 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 important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and producing 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 decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet did not offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had intended. Aside from that it developed anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence 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 the years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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