Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its customs and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

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

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised 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 Indian help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly neglected once the Indians were forced from the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into areas inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 located 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 encountered misfortune as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 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 along with 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 acreage 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 ready to make the long journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts 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 laws and operations established 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau within 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes committing massive 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 get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 anticipated the risk 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. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever go after 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last 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 allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, in order to provide more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many problems. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved 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 property in the West, the federal government continually reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.

     

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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, battled back. As they fought to defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to force 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 policies required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent method 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 move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To hasten the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the start of their existence 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 part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to establish private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet didn’t supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had wished. Further, it created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social hub of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not 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 ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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