Ages 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 land, 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 legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
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 plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just 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
When European leaders sent the first ships in this direction, the goal was to explore new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently 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 possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian 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 even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted 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 consistently ignored after the Indians were forced off the territory 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced adversity as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of acreage under 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those willing to make the huge journey westward. As a result, 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.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures 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 the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored 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 formed 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 compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes committing massive 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 frequently helped settlers cross 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 calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes in order 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 hold long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to provide more land for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion 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 agreements had many problems. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t completely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely held up 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. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the government continually reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant demands for land.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve 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 responded to these incursions with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term strategy for protecting 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 turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation process, the government set up Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their established 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 component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, better 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 rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life but didn’t offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, 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.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had anticipated. This also generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian policies shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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