Way before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 regions of what’s now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account 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 vessels in this direction, the intention was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather 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 carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here knew that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were forced from the land in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were determined 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 located in contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States 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 wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those ready to make the long journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations made and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau inside the War Department referred to as 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 force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread 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 repeatedly 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To calm these anxieties, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed to never 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last very long. After hearing stories of fertile acreage 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 heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many problems. Most of all many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for land.
A Look at Native American Symbols
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 maintain 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property 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 government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 concluded that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting means of protecting U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to implement federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation process, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the director 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 objective, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important part 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 needed to establish private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and producing 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 decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet did not supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had expected. It also generated resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. Due to 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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