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 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 highly advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive 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 shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. 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 freedom 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 arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied 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 contemporary 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 misfortune as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various 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 in addition to 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 acreage within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 possibilities for those prepared make the huge journey 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.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and 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 initially became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency within 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, 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, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers into 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 routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these concerns, 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 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 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 consented to end the hostilities amongst 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand long. After hearing tales of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting 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, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to provide 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 offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people did not entirely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these hostilities with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.

    This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting means 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 relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To speed up the assimilation course, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to create non-public ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet didn’t provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the region 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 off their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had expected. This also created resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural centre of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


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

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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