Way before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 traditions and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful arts and crafts 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 history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the objective 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 motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected after the Indians were pushed 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 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 met misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 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. practically doubled the amount of territory under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 prepared make the long quest westward. Consequently, 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 group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws 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 initially became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very 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 created a new agency 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 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 flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To calm these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed to never assault 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 consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able to accept the terms 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 did not stand long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain 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 moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more property for “” 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 given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.

     

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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 defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military campaigns. 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 shifted considerably after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 was 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 representatives viewed assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent means of guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation course, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining 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 remaining land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but failed to offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the acreage 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 duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had intended. Further, it produced resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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