Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 centuries, the American Indian developed its traditions and heritage without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the goal was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed decades 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 restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed away from 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 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 situated 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 experienced misfortune 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 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 hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished 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 long quest westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building 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 laws and regulations and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations 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 made a new agency inside the War Department referred to as 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 give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing 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 routinely 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government presented a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed never to attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more property for the 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 given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples did not altogether grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the 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 settlers’ constant appetite for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several 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 effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only long-term strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress imagined that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting method 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To hasten the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to increase private ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and offering each family their own block of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, 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 every family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet didn’t 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 three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had expected. Further, it created resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and social focus of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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