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 land, 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 regions of what is today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful art 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 account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the objective was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently 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 shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here learned that their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They required 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 notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were moved from the land in question.
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 regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, approximately 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 located 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 encountered hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States practically 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 huge quest westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building 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 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 these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau within 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up 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 controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers get across 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 anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged to not 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 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 amongst their tribes to be able 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 stand very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, in order to offer more territory 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 cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating 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 regarded the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress imagined that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term means 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation course, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to create private ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the expense 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 policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet did not supply the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the people had lost in excess of 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 their land in order to pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had expected. Further, it produced resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often ruined land that was the spiritual and social focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces 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 all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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