Far 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 grew its customs and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative 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 our direction, the intention was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.

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 that were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were pushed off 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 regions inhabited 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 met misfortune as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these various groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century in 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 United States nearly doubled the amount of acreage 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 prepared make the huge trip 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 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 established and adapted in the United States to summarize 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. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency within the War Department referred to as 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing 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 generally 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 quiet these anxieties, 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 tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever attack 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain 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 policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender 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 food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort 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 chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.

     

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    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought 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 effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these hostilities with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This legislation 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 “” government, Congress presumed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term means of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To hasten the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. 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 objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to replace 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 life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to establish private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded 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 wished that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and producing 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 decades they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not offer the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, 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.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and provide for their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had expected. Aside from that it developed animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


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

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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