Way before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 grew 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 parts of what’s now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in this direction, the aim was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood 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 followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were moved away from the territory 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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the continuous stream 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 along with 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 acreage 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those willing to make the huge trip westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building 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 established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its 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 formed a new bureau inside 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 different 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 culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing 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 generally 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 feared the possibility of an attack.
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To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage 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 plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. 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 divided from the whites in order to reduce the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people did not entirely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to preserve 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 coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans into reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent nations.
This legislation signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method 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 relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant 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 achieve this, Congress planned to establish private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, referred to 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 remaining land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would split 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 lifestyle yet did not offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory 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 cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had expected. This also created anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes because 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 these years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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