Long before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 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’s currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. 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 our direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon 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 carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here learned their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were forced 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 regions inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, approximately 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 present day 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 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 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 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 territory 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities 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.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and 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 an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau within the War Department called the 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, separate 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, 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 printed 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these concerns, 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 tracks and forts in this territory and pledged never to go after 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 signed the treaty, even consented 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing stories 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 plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to provide more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given 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 pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant hunger 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 fought to preserve 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed considerably following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was far too strict while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous 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 jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress presumed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned traditional spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down 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 accomplish this, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own block of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life but did not offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of 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.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had expected. It also created resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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