Far 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 land, 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 heritage without disturbance. 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 narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account 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 sent the first ships in this direction, the intention 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.

Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure 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 opportunity.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were forced 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied 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 situated 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 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 in 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 territory within 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 alluring opportunities for those willing to make the extended trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws 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 first became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to administrate 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 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 varying 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 traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 tracks and forts in this territory and pledged to never go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to give more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender their land and move 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 farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people did not properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never executed.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a 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 conflicts with significant military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole long-term method of guaranteeing 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 autonomous entities.

    This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 imagined that it would be easier 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 administrators considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means of guaranteeing 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To hasten the assimilation process, the government started 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 designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded 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 divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had desired. Further, it developed animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social center of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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