Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 centuries, the American Indian grew 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’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the account 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 vessels in this direction, the intention was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of comparative 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were pushed away 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 almost 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 encountered hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 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. roughly doubled the amount of territory under 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 alluring possibilities for those prepared make the huge quest 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 areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards the native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside the War Department called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, distinct political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up 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 reports of cruel native tribes carrying out 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 frequently helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government presented a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged not to assault 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 in order 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 reports of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting 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 swaths of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many complications. Most of all many of the native people didn’t properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents frequently 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 federal government frequently decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless appetite for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing 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 method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to impose federal regulations that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.
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 program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own stretch of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and serving up 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 existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living yet did not offer the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, 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 purchased by white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had anticipated. Further, it developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. 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 filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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