Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, the tribes were spread throughout 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 developed its traditions and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s now the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber 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 rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful without 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 anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were moved away from the land 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 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 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 encountered misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of territory within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating opportunities for those prepared make the huge trip 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency within 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 force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To calm these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government organised a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and agreed to never go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make 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 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 stand long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon 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 cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to reduce the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most importantly 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 norms 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 carried out.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest 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 federal government frequently decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to preserve their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions 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 changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s 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 U.S. government, Congress imagined that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term means 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 move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to establish private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming 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 disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living yet didn’t offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to 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. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had expected. Further, it developed anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social hub of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian policies shoved them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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