Long before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread all over 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 culture and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.

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 plenty. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the goal was to explore new resources – however 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed decades of relative 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 adventure.

They wanted more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were pushed off 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 regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 land of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the constant stream 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 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those prepared make the extended trip westward. Consequently, 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.

    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 define 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 native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

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

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers get across 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks 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 total payments to the Indians. The Native American tribes responded peacefully 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 in order 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 hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting 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, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to provide more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native people did not properly grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to protect 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 reacted to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too severe while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single long-term means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This legislation signaled a major shift in the government’s working 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 “” government, Congress believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government representatives viewed assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent method of guaranteeing 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 homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To hasten the assimilation course, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to 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 objective, the schools required students to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to establish non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, 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 provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and providing prime property 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 lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet did not offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had anticipated. Aside from that it produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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