Way before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, the tribes were spread throughout the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this land, 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 heritage 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 now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years 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 restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 that were nearly uniformly neglected once the Indians were forced from the land 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 territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 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 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 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 various 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of acreage under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 captivating opportunities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Consequently, 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.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations 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 a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administer 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 closely with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, separate political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, hand over 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 generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies 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 anxieties, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged never to assault 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 signed 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing testimonies 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 moving west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to give more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people did not altogether grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government continually 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’ persistent demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to defend 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 coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans into reservations was far too strict while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, considered 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 government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress presumed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives considered assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting 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 move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
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 platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining 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 were given 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 stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life but did not supply the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost in excess of 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 duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had desired. Further, it developed resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process often ruined land that was the spiritual and social hub of their lives.
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 living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans coerced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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