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 customs and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.

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 much. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. 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 vessels in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to slice 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 ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive 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 independence 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 notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored after 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into areas inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States practically doubled the amount of acreage within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 opportunities for those willing to make the extended trip westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency inside the War Department called the 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, separate 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 culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out 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 repeatedly helped settlers get across 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged to not go after 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 agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able to accept the conditions 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 tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing 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, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to give 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the federal government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled 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 effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. 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 believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations 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 widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting method of 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 move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed 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 polices that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To speed up the assimilation course, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director 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 forced students to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their 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 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 needed to establish private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, 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 each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had desired. It also created anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social center of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians had been defrauded out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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