Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 disturbance. And that history is captivating.

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

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than 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


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather 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 transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were moved from the land 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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 encountered misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of land 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 long journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing 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 regulations 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 an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside the War Department referred to as 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, independent political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 tracks and forts in this territory and agreed 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 quietly 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last long. After hearing tales of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to provide more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t altogether understand the document that they were signing 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 responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never executed.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government continually decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to maintain their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent means 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To boost the assimilation process, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to establish private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own plot 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 provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming 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 generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet failed to provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region 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 cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had wished. This also generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural centre of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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