Way 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 land, 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 traditions 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 now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. 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 explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber 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 rushed to carve up the “New World” by transporting 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 came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were pushed off 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 virtually 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 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 misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse 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 in addition to 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 within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 possibilities for those willing to make the long trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these local 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 execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes carrying out 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 routinely helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged to not go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing tales of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established 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 isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many complications. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t properly grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the federal government frequently decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought 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 coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed 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 believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term strategy for protecting 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 homes and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal regulations that often banned traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to make this happen goal, the schools compelled students to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing 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 disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life but did not supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the acreage 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 cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order pay bills and provide for their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had desired. It also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal location of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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