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 centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions and legacy without disturbance. 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 plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
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 consistently ignored after the Indians were forced off the land in question.
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, lived 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 experienced misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century in 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of land 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 opportunities for those willing to make the long trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building 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 regulations and procedures made 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 country, it implemented the European policies towards the native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency 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 different 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 traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 often helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the possibility of an attack.
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To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever 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 agreed to end the hostilities between 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 didn’t last long. After hearing stories of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to provide more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration 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 complications. Most of all many of the native people did not altogether grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended 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, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to defend 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 coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans into reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent strategy for guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to implement federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important 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 achieve this, Congress wanted to increase non-public ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and offering each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited 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 every family be provided with 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 expected that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life but failed to supply the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, 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 sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had intended. This also developed animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. government policies, 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 had been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside 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 fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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