Long 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 legacy 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 today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts 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 tale 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 ships in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – but 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed 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 native help.
Thus followed decades of relative 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 anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed off the territory 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 contemporary 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 adversity as the constant flow 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 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 roughly doubled the amount of land under 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating opportunities for those willing to make the long quest 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations made and adapted in the United States to define 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 indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, independent political communities with numerous 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 culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out 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 generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 possibility of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged to never go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total annual 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to grant more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to give up 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 cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples did not properly 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 departments accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more land in the West, the federal government constantly reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands 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 fought 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 effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This legislation signaled a major shift 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 broadly acknowledged 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 deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent strategy for 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 established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully 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.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life but did not provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and feed their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had desired. It also generated resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal center of their days.
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 alone, 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 lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of 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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