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 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 traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.
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 artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply 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 this direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were pushed away 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 territories occupied 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 continuous flow 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 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly 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 captivating possibilities for those ready to make the long quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas 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 summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards the 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 supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up 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 stories of savage native tribes committing massive 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 repeatedly helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 presumed the risk of an attack.
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To calm 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed 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 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 amongst their tribes in order to accept the conditions 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 great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to provide more land 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 offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples did not entirely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to preserve their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.
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Native American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting strategy for protecting U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others instructed Indian males 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 cultural and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government started Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. 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 accomplish this goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and serving up 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 lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory 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 required to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had wished. It also created resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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