Way 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 interference. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is today 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 structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the history 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 vessels in our direction, the objective 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 learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

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

Thus followed decades of comparative 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 find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were forced away 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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, approximately 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 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 encountered hardship as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of acreage 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 attractive opportunities for those willing to make the huge trip westward. Consequently, 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 group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to administer 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, 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, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out massive 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 over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these worries, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make annual 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 agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions 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 long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to provide more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples did not completely grasp 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 departments responsible for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the federal government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless hunger for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was far too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress presumed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent strategy for guaranteeing 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 established dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to impose federal regulations that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To boost the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully 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.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, 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 hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration 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 decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet failed to provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes 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.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had desired. This also produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal location of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians ended up cheated out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. Due to decades 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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