Way 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 interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon 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 transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew 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 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 arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed away from the territory 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, approximately 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 located in contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered adversity 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 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 pretty much 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 attractive possibilities for those prepared make the huge quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building 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 regulations and procedures developed 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 country, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
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, independent political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out massive 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 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 risk of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 to not assault 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 signed 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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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last very long. After hearing tales of fertile land and tremendous 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people didn’t properly grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger 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 protect 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular long-term strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a major shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term strategy for 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the director 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 forced enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own block of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, better known 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 residual territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and providing prime land 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 generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living yet failed to 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 property. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region 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 required to sell off their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had anticipated. Further, it created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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