Far 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 developed its customs and legacy without disturbance. 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 quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced 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 deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to carve up the “New World” by transporting 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 came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were pushed away from the territory in question.
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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 present day 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 met misfortune as the constant flow 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 in 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 did 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 troves of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those willing to make the long journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began 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 established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau inside 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of cruel 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 cross 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged to never go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to provide more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for heightened U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant hunger for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a 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 reacted to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means of 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 grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. As per 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 accomplish this 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 policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic 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 enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to establish private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering 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 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 split up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration 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 lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost in excess of 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had anticipated. This also created anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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