Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 grew its culture and heritage without disturbance. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently 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 sending 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, since the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades 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 adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were forced away from the territory 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 territories inhabited 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 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 hardship as the continuous flow 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 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 territory 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those prepared make the long 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 parts of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and operations developed 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 nation, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very 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 made 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing 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 frequently helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good 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 kept 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 never to assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make 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 signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amongst 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 stand long. After hearing tales 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 heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more land for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced 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 equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most of all many of the native people didn’t completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.
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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 defend their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 responded to these conflicts with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too strict even while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent means of assuring 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 sovereign nations.
This law signaled a major shift 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 U.S. government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials perceived assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term strategy for protecting 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of living. Some laws banned common religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that attempted 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 achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete 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 platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to increase private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the people had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off 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, like the makers of the policy had wished. Aside from that it generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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