Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 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 parts of what’s today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our 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 learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here learned their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed years 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

They wanted 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 that were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were forced away from 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 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 experienced adversity as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 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. pretty much doubled the amount of land 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 prepared make the extended 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 parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the 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 initially became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency inside 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 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 traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing massive 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 routinely helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm these worries, 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 tracks and forts in this territory and agreed to never 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 quietly to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced 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 cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increased 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 conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native people did not properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never executed.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady 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 constantly decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it was 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 representatives looked at assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation process, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian property by dividing 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 left over land. The General Allotment Act, better 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 residual acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and producing 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 way of life yet failed to provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. 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.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had anticipated. Further, it generated resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as 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 these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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