Long before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

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

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber 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 rushed to carve up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed 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 came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find additional 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 famously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were pushed 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, approximately 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 territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced misfortune as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of land under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 alluring opportunities for those prepared make the extended journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures 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 an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the changing 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 bureau within 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, independent 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, give up 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 circulated 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 presumed the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged never to assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total annual 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes in order to accept the terms 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 stand long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government frequently decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant hunger for territory.

     

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    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled 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 attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required 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 felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.

    This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress imagined that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term method of insuring 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 buildings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To hasten the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the founder 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 compelled pupils to speak only English, wear proper American attire 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 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 enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to increase non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own plot of land.

    In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and producing prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had desired. It also produced anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social location of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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