Far 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 disturbance. And that history is captivating.
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 plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the experience of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the aim was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back 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 alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find additional 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 form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were moved away 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, roughly 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of land 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 possibilities for those ready to make the extended journey westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building 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 operations made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administrate 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.
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To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government presented a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and agreed not to assault 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 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 agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold long. After hearing tales of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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, small areas of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear 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 reduce the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t entirely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the federal government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “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 urged Native Americans to relocate out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government set up 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 developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the full 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 program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and offering each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be given 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 divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost over 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 duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order pay bills and provide for 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. This also developed animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their territory, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian regulations coerced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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