Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, the tribes were spread throughout 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.

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 quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in this direction, the goal 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 learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful without native 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 restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were pushed away from the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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, 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 located in contemporary 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 met adversity as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century in the United States was marked by its continual 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 United States pretty much doubled the amount of land 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those ready to make the extended journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures made 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 adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside 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, separate political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports 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 generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 presumed the risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 never to go after 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” 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 commanded Native Americans to give up 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 farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most significantly many of the native people did not entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords 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 required more land in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, several 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 effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single long-term strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method of protecting 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To boost the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to create private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own block of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. 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 land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and producing prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet failed to supply the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost more than 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.

    Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had intended. Further, it generated resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration policies, 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 filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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