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 land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For centuries, the American Indian developed its customs and heritage without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the tale 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 sent the first vessels in our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but 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 motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

They required more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly 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 determined 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 located in present day 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 adversity as the steady 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 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of territory within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 attractive possibilities for those prepared make the huge quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts 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 regulations 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply 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 closely with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, independent political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of 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 printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out widespread 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 generally helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To calm these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 tracks and forts in this territory and agreed to never 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 signed the treaty, even consented 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more territory for “” 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 given a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration 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 deals had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t completely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property in the West, the government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for land.

     

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    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to maintain their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans onto reservations was far too severe while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This law signaled a drastic shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term method of guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others ordered 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 banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To speed the assimilation course, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully 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.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own parcel of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire 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 turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes 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.

    Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and take care of their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had anticipated. Further, it developed resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal location of their lives.

     

    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 places of residence as 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 all these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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