Way 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 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 traditions 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 is today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the intention was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful with no Indian 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 impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were forced away from the territory 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 territories 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 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 populated by these various groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century of 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of land 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those prepared make the huge trip westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building 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 developed and adapted in the United States to outline 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 these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made 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, independent political communities with different 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 flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread 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 often helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged to not assault 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand long. After hearing reports of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing 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, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 given a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more land in the West, the federal government constantly decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to protect 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 coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s 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 “” government, Congress imagined that it was 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 officials perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single 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 urged Native Americans to move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government started Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to create non-public ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian supervision and serving up 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 decades they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet didn’t supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction 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 sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had wished. Further, it produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing as 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 all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their property, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations coerced 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 lowered to fewer than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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