Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 centuries, the American Indian developed its culture 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 currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in this direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised 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 with no native help.
Thus followed decades 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 impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed 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 almost all Native American tribes, roughly 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 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 adversity as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 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 in addition to 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 acreage within 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those ready to make the long quest westward. Consequently, 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 laws and procedures developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency within the War Department referred to as 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 force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers cross 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever go after 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 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 did not last very long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances 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 plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked 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 surrender 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 cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not altogether understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for administering these policies were weighed down 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 accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite for land.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only long-term strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it would be better 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 solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term strategy for 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 move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that required Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to establish non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet failed to supply the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the people had lost more than 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 off their land in order pay bills and feed their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had desired. Further, it generated resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because 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 land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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