Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 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 parts of what is currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just 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
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the objective was to discover 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 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 soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful without native 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 independence and opportunity.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were forced off the land in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered misfortune as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 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 roughly 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those ready to make the huge journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
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 initially became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing 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 agency 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out 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 frequently helped settlers cross 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged to not 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 quietly to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and great 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to surrender their land and move 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 farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not properly grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the federal government frequently decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to protect 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 conflicts with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole 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 autonomous entities.
This legislation signaled a major 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 U.S. government, Congress imagined that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method of 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 buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to establish non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but failed to provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory 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 duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had intended. Aside from that it produced resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their lives.
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 filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them inside 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 reduced to under 250,000 people. As a result of 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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