Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 developed its traditions and legacy 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 currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the goal 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 learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.

Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland followed 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 shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were moved away from the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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, 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 territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century of 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of land within 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing 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 operations made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply 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 directly 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 compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers get across 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To calm these concerns, 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 not to ever 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst 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 did not last very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and great 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to give more land for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort 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 friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most of all many of the native people did not properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated 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 demanded more land in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This legislation signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 believed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to impose federal regulations that often banned traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To hasten the assimilation course, the government set up Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully 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.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools required students 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 classic tribal identity and the start 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 passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to create private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own block of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, better 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet failed to provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost over 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.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had desired. It also developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government 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 filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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