Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 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 is now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently 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 slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful with no Indian 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 anxious to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly uniformly 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 territories 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 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 misfortune as the steady stream 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 of 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 would 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the long journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing 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 operations made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards the local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations 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 agency inside 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, independent 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 controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes carrying out widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility 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 go after 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 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile land and great 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant 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 given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans onto 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” as the sole long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This legislation signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives viewed assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term method of protecting 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to impose federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To speed up the assimilation course, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. 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 accomplish this objective, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own block of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, 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 each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and providing prime property 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 generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the territory 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 required to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had intended. This also developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and social location of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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