Far 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 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 traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were pushed from the territory 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 regions inhabited 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 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 adversity as the steady stream 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 in addition to 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 acreage within 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those willing to make the long journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began 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 laws and regulations 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 first became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau within 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes committing widespread 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 often helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly 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 held 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged to not assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 consented to end the hostilities amongst 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 didn’t hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances 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 policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t properly understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were intended 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 people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent demands for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought 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 attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans into reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with 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 countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “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 pressed Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to enforce federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed up the assimilation course, the government set up Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer 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 enacted 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 accomplish this, Congress planned to increase non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, 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 rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property 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 lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet failed to offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had expected. Further, it created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural centre of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence 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 have been defrauded out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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