Long 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 traditions and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
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 tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history 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 this direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, 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 their survival was doubtful with no Indian 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 anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were forced from the land in question.
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 occupied 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 located 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 misfortune as the steady 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 in 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of land within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 alluring opportunities for those prepared make the extended 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 areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and procedures developed 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 the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities 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 closely 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, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing 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 repeatedly helped settlers cross 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 feared the possibility of an attack.
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To quiet 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed to never 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 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 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 didn’t stand very long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian 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 payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear 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 reduce the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger 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 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 attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working 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 U.S. government, Congress believed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term strategy for guaranteeing 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 handed down laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the complete 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 platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and producing 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 existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not supply the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region 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 cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had expected. It also produced resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as 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 the years the Indians have been cheated out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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