Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its customs 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 currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful art 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 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 vessels in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather 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 raced to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They wanted 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 which were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were forced off 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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, lived 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these diverse 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of land within 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 captivating opportunities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began 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 laws 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 first became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer 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 directly 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 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 stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers get across 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 possibility of an attack.
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To soothe 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged never to attack 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even agreed 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 last long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and great 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more property 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 food, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people did not completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for land.
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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, battled back. As they fought to maintain their lands 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 reacted 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 shifted radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans onto reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole permanent strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress imagined that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting 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 relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional cultural and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
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 created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to establish private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian administration and providing prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Frequently, 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 families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had intended. This also produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian plans coerced them inside reservations and attempted 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 less than 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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