Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 centuries, 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’s today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned 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. At the outset, 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 Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more 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 shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were pushed away from the land in question.
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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 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 located in contemporary 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 encountered adversity as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of land within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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. Consequently, 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards the local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside 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, separate political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing massive 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 routinely helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk 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. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed to not assault 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for heightened 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 chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many problems. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not entirely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled 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 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. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s working 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 imagined that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term strategy for insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of living. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to enforce federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation course, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per 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 objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime land to be purchased by 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 and yet didn’t offer the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had desired. It also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; 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 altered permanently.
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