Far before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions and heritage without disturbance. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s now the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were forced 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 areas 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of territory under 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 alluring possibilities for those ready to make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau 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, distinct 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, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing 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 often helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility 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. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever attack 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 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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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender 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 money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people did not altogether grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant hunger 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, 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 reacted to these hostilities with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 believed 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 representatives considered assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of living. 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 organized tribunals to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government set up Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. As per the founder 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 objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to switch 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 start of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to establish non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life but did not provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost more than 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.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had expected. This also developed animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often 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 policies, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. As a result of 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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