Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 grew its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.
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 narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than 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 our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed 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 notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the constant 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of land under 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 captivating opportunities for those ready to make the huge journey westward. Therefore, 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 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 a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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 varying 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 customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe 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 consented to 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 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 consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms 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 stories 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 plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon 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, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear 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 reduce the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people did not properly understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled 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 attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions 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 drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.
This legislation signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting method 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 established dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their existence 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 significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own block of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given 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 hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet didn’t provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had anticipated. It also developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural centre of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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