Long 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 now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but 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 transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here learned their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.

Thus followed decades of comparative 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 impatient to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were forced away from the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 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 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 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 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of territory under 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 captivating opportunities for those ready to make the extended quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories 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 routinely helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 feared the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged to never assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 consented to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand very long. After hearing stories of fertile acreage and great 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 region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to offer more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up their land and migrate 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 foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to protect 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 force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular long-term means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working 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 better 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 perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting 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 established dwellings, move into wooden buildings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities 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.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end 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 enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.

    In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, also 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and providing prime land to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but did not offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had expected. Aside from that it generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as 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 all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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