Far 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its customs and legacy 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 currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our 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 learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years 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 impatient to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They wanted more space. And so began the process of forcing 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 off the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were determined by the desire to expand westward into regions inhabited 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 located 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 constant stream 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 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 U.S. nearly doubled the amount of territory 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 captivating possibilities for those willing to make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about 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 regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau within 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 force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over 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 savage native tribes carrying out widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the terms 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 didn’t hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to give more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest 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 effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military operations. Obviously 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 shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans into reservations was far too severe even while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method of 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their 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 important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet didn’t provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost more than 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.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own 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 policy had expected. Further, it generated anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. 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 alone, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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