Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, the tribes were spread all over 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 grew its customs 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 quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the narrative 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 this direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, 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 learned that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

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

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

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly neglected after the Indians were forced off the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, lived 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 territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity as the continuous 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 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. pretty much doubled the amount of territory 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 attractive possibilities for those prepared make the long trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the 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 initially became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made 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, distinct political communities with varying 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 stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these anxieties, 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged to never attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last very long. After hearing reports of fertile land and tremendous 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many problems. Most of all many of the native people did not completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these hostilities with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too severe while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent method of 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 move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation course, the government started Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, the schools required students to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet failed to provide the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage 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 cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had intended. Further, it produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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