Long before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 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 much. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of relative 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 locate additional 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 famously, treaties which were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were moved off the territory 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, 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 present day 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 experienced hardship as the steady stream 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 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 in addition to 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 land within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 captivating opportunities for those willing to make the long quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency within the War Department referred to as 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 give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out 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 often helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 feared the possibility of an attack.
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To calm these fears, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to go after 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 between their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand very 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 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, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian 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 move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many problems. Most of all many of the native people didn’t completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite 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, fought back. As they fought to preserve 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 force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent means of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses 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 common 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 restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the director 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 goal, the schools required students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to establish non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, referred to 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 thought that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime land 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 policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet did not provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within 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 purchased by white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had expected. It also developed anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal centre of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because 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 the years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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