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 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 customs and heritage without interference. 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 much. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply 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 dispatched the first ships in this direction, the plan 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 heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here understood their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.

Thus followed years of relative 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 anxious to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were forced away from the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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, 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 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 encountered adversity as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of acreage under 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those willing to make the extended quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas 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 procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau within 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 force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted 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 quiet these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 pledged to not assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make 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 amongst their tribes in order 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 hold long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and move 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 foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not altogether grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went 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 property in the West, the government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands for territory.

     

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    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too strict 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 only permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting 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 relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To speed the assimilation course, the government set up Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. 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 make this happen goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved 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 make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also referred to 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 remaining land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life yet didn’t offer the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the people had lost over 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.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had expected. It also developed anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. administration 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 inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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