Long 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 developed its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the objective was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently 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 carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here learned their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure 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 shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed away 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, roughly 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 adversity as the constant flow 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 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of acreage within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves of European and Asian immigrants who wanted 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 quest westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures made and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements 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, distinct political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel 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 into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread 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 sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 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 to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing tales of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more land for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government continually decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless appetite for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 incursions with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular long-term strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This law signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 imagined that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators viewed assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting method 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 move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To speed up the assimilation course, the government set up Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their daily 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 element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, 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 remaining land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and providing prime land 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 existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people had lost in excess of 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.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had expected. This also developed anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. 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 without limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies forced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Due to generations 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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