Way before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its customs and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
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 story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. 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 this direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting 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, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades 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 locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed 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 territories inhabited 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 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 hardship as the steady flow 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 of 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 United States practically doubled the amount of land 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 alluring opportunities for those prepared make the long journey westward. Consequently, 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 areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures 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 indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made 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, separate political communities with numerous 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 culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports 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 routinely helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 risk of an attack.
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To quiet these anxieties, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed not to ever 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 amidst their tribes in order 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 last very long. After hearing stories of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more property for “” 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people did not entirely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite 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, fought back. As they struggled to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was far too strict even while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only long-term strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent nations.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent 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 buildings and grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to impose federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed up the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their established 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 significant component 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 wanted to establish private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and producing prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory 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 cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had desired. Further, it created anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social centre of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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