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

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

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account 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 dispatched the first ships in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon 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 slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive 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 wanted more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected after the Indians were moved 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 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, 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 area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century in 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. pretty much doubled the amount of acreage 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the huge trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about 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 regulations 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 initially became an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency 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 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 customs.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing 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 generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government held a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged to never attack 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 consented 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 agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage 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 moving west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to give more land for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced 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 stipend that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many complications. Most importantly many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government continually reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    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 preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was too severe 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 sole permanent method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This law signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it was 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 representatives viewed assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent means 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To hasten the assimilation process, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to 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 make this happen goal, the schools forced 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 traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to establish non-public ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also 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 thought that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense 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 decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet didn’t provide the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost over two-thirds of the region 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 forced to sell their property in order pay bills and take care of their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had intended. Aside from that it developed animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal centre of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. administration 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 limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.

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