Centuries 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 centuries, the American Indian grew 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 art 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 sent the first vessels in our direction, the aim was to explore 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, 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 without Indian help.
Thus followed years 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 locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 that were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were pushed away from the territory in question.
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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 present day Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of territory under 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those willing to make the long quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and operations established 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 nation, it implemented the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to execute 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, 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, hand over their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” 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 frequently helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged never to go after 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 peacefully 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 to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last very long. After hearing stories of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to give up their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals 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 property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought 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 effort to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone long-term means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 presumed that it was 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 administrators perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 urged Native Americans to move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to enforce federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
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 created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to increase private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet did not offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people 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 sold to white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had anticipated. This also developed resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration policies, 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 all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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