Long before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 grew its culture 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 is now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the objective was to explore 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They required 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 that were nearly consistently neglected 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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, roughly 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 located 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 met misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 in addition to 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 acreage within 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 attractive possibilities for those prepared make the huge 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 areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures made and adapted in the United States to define 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 local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency 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, independent political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage 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 the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood 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. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged never to assault 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 quietly 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 conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing stories of fertile acreage 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, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to provide 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 migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to pave 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 potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people did not entirely 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 institutions responsible for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy 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, battled back. As they fought to defend 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 coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too strict while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators viewed assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent 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 grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government set up Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the full 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 teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to establish private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, 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 each family be provided with 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 wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and encourage 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 policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but didn’t supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had wished. It also created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal location of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to 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 filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and tried 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 less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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