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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed 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’s currently 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 structures and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the history of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently 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 sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence 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 payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were moved 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 determined by the desire to expand westward into regions inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, roughly 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 met adversity as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of land 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 alluring possibilities for those prepared make the extended quest westward. Consequently, 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 made 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies 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 created a new agency within the War Department referred to as 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, separate political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of 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 printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing widespread 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 generally helped settlers cross over 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged never to go after 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 signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able 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 stories of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender 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 money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people did not entirely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, 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 plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied 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, fought back. As they struggled to defend 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was far too strict even while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone long-term means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This legislation signaled a major shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting strategy for insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation process, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously 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.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the absolute 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 program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress wanted to establish private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing 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 remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, also referred to 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 thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision 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 regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t provide the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost in excess of 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 land in order pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had intended. Aside from that it produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their property, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and attempted 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 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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