Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 grew its customs and legacy without interference. 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 plenty. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the objective was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently 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 slice up the “New World” by sending 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 arrived here understood their survival was doubtful with no native 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 anxious to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
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 famously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were forced 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 encountered adversity as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of territory under 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 alluring opportunities for those prepared make the huge quest 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside the War Department referred to as Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, distinct political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other necessities 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 likelihood of an attack.
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To soothe these concerns, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways 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 peacefully 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 amongst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender 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 food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government frequently decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect 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 operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was far too strict while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single long-term method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent means of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To boost 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 designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original 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 enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to establish non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and providing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had desired. This also developed resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social center of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces 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 all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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