Way 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 land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For thousands of years, the American Indian grew its customs and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.
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 arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the intention was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. 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 knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of comparative 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 impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were moved away from the territory in question.
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 regions 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 located 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 met misfortune as the continuous 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 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 land under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities for those ready to make the extended journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau inside 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, distinct political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out massive 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 cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government organised a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed not to attack 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 amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last long. After hearing stories of fertile land 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to provide more property for the 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave 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 friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to maintain their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to make 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 policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was far too strict even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This legislation signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed 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 presumed that it would be 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 considered assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent method of guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to enforce federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the start of their 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 important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, also 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 acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision 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 lifestyle but did not provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the region 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 cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had intended. Aside from that it produced anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through 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 filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their property, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations 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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