Long 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 developed 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 parts of what’s today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. 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 ships in this direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive 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, because the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

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

They wanted 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 ignored once the Indians were forced from 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 influenced 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 contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered 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 diverse 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t 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 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 attractive opportunities for those prepared make the long quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts 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 procedures established and adapted in the United States to define 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 native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau inside 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, distinct political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these worries, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and agreed not to attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross annual 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 amidst 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 last long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to provide more land for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to give up 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 food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples did not properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government continually reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to maintain 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 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 required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too strict even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting strategy for guaranteeing 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To speed up the assimilation course, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to 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 achieve this objective, the schools required students to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create private ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own parcel of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining 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 rest of the land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration 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 existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet did not offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage 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 cheated out of their allotments or were forced 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 creators of the Act had wished. Aside from that it produced anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. government regulations, 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 inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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