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 territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions 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 currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience 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 vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were forced away from the land in question.
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 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 misfortune as the continuous flow 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 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of territory within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 opportunities for those prepared make the huge quest westward. Consequently, 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 operations made and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these anxieties, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and agreed not to attack 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amongst 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 did not stand very long. After hearing stories 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more property for “” 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 stipend that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement 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 deals had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples did not completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the federal government continually reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to preserve 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 compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s working 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 U.S. government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “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 pressed Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of life. Some laws banned traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their established 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 approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to establish private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own plot 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, also known 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed 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 their property in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had desired. This also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing 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 the years the Indians ended up cheated out of their property, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian plans shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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