Far before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its customs and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned 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 drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored once 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, approximately 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 situated in present day 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 hardship as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 in addition to 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 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 captivating 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 started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures developed 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 the native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency 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, independent 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 customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was in no way 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 organised 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 roads and forts in this territory and agreed 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 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 between their tribes to be able 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 last very long. After hearing tales of fertile land 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 moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increasing 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 friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people did not properly grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to defend their territories 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 responded to these incursions with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was too severe even though industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole permanent means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single 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 established dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to impose federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring 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. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to create non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as 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 wished that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian supervision and providing 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 generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet failed to supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had anticipated. This also created resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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