Long 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 developed its traditions and heritage without disturbance. 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 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 tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because 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 impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently neglected after the Indians were pushed from 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 inhabited 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 located 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 flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of acreage 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those willing to make the huge trip 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 parts 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 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 these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau within 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, separate political communities with varying 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 traditions.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed 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 agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able 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 hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to provide more land 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 food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the accords 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. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to protect 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 compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Obviously 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 felt that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too severe even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This law signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, 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 widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term strategy for insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned traditional religious 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 polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute 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 component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to establish private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own plot of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be purchased by 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 way of living yet did not offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had intended. Further, it developed anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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