Far 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed 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 regions of what is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They required more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were pushed from 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 areas 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 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 met adversity as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 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 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 pretty much 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those willing to make the huge trip westward. As a result, 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures developed 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 implemented the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to execute 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 directly 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 force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.
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To quiet these fears, 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 to not 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to give more land for the 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many problems. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were finalizing 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 administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people 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 deceitful and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to maintain 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 compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not 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 would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means 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 established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to impose federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to establish non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be purchased by 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 yet failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had wished. Further, it generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural centre of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. 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 limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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