Way 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its customs and heritage 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 now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the plan was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed 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 famously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were forced away from the land 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 regions inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the steady stream 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. 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 extended trip 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 parts of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established 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 country, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created 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, distinct political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over 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 cruel 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 generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To calm these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within 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 gross 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing tales of fertile land and great 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to give more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to surrender their land and move 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, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt 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 conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the government constantly cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for land.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful 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 force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans into reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting strategy for 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 move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation process, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to 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 goal, the schools compelled students to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic 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 passed the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small 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 each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet didn’t provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the region 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 cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had anticipated. Aside from that it generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through 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 restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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