Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 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 is today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale 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 aim was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They wanted 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 once the Indians were pushed from the land 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 areas 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 situated 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 misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of territory within 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those prepared make the long quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing 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 regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency within 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, 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, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed 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 routinely 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 go after 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 amongst 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 did not hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increased 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 potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people did not altogether grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the federal government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for land.
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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 struggled 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 attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans into reservations was far too strict while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular 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 nations.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 believed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent strategy for guaranteeing 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government set up Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder 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 compelled pupils to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited 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 every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration 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 decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet didn’t provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people 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.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and take care of their 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 generated anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social centre of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as 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 these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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