Long before the terms Native American or Indian were created, the tribes were spread throughout 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 culture and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions 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 nothing more than 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
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative 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 restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored after 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced misfortune as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of territory 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began 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 regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to outline 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 indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency inside 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 varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 presumed the risk of an attack.
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To soothe these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 never to 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 peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able 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 stand long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to grant more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never carried out.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans relocated 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 demanded more territory in the West, the federal government continually reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless appetite for land.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought 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 attempt to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone permanent means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent strategy for insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government established Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. As per the director 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 forced pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to increase non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and providing prime land 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 lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet failed to supply the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the region 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 land in order pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had anticipated. Aside from that it developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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