Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 grew its culture 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’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures 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 sent the first ships in our direction, the objective was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here learned that their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They wanted 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 once the Indians were forced away from the land in question.
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 regions inhabited 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 situated in present day Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of territory 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 alluring 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 started establishing 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 regulations and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency inside the War Department referred to as 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 compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage 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 routinely helped settlers cross over 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 tracks 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 agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able 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 tales of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. 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 reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to give more territory for the 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 offered a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to maintain 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 reacted to these skirmishes with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 presumed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to 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 achieve this goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to establish private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 remaining territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and providing prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet didn’t supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had wished. This also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often ruined land that was the spiritual and social location 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 homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and attempted 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 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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