Way before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture 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 now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the narrative of our forebears. 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 our direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed decades of relative 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 restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were pushed from the land in question.
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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, were living 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 experienced misfortune as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly 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 long trip westward. Therefore, 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 group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made 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 compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers cross 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To soothe these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to ever assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order 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 last very long. After hearing tales 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more land for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people did not completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government continually reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to maintain 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 responded to these hostilities with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans into reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting method of protecting 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned common religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the complete 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 part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to create private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with 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 was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property to be sold to 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 approach to life yet did not provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. 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 sold to white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had wished. It also produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social location of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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