Ages 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 centuries, the American Indian developed 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 regions of what’s today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades 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 impatient to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted 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 which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed from the land in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were determined by the desire to expand westward into areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of acreage under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating opportunities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started 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 procedures 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 an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency 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, separate political communities with different 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 traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out 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 routinely helped settlers cross 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 likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 agreed never to 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between 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 didn’t stand very long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer 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 move 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 foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most of all many of the native people didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government constantly reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to maintain their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a 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 reacted to these incursions with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations 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 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 administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent method of 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 established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this goal, the schools compelled students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
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 educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, 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 every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering 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 disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet failed to provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to 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 passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and take care of their 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 Act had desired. This also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social hub of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing 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 all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their property, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. 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 altered forever.
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