Long 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 centuries, the American Indian developed its culture and heritage without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment 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 sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more 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 arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed from the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 regions inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 land of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of land 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 attractive possibilities for those willing to make the long quest 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 areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations developed 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 over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply 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, 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 traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out massive 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 repeatedly helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government presented a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed never to 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 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 amongst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last very long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated 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 demanded more property in the West, the federal government constantly reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest 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, 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 hostilities with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual 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 cultural and religious practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. 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 objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their life 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 important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own plot of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, 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 each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved 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 offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the people had lost over two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had desired. Further, it created animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. 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 without limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations coerced them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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