Long before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 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 much. It’s a story of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the aim was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored once the Indians were forced away from the land 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 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 met hardship as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these diverse 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of acreage within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 attractive opportunities for those prepared make the huge quest westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and 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 implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing 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 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 different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes frequently helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 anticipated the possibility of an attack.
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To quiet these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 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 quietly 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 conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 heading west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to give more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to surrender their land and move 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 farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many problems. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t entirely grasp 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 institutions responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent demands 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, battled back. As they struggled 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy changed considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans onto 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 strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working 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 “” government, Congress imagined that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly 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 deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to impose federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director 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 goal, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given 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 expected that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life yet did not provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people 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 sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and feed their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had desired. This also generated resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to 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 the years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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