Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to 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 environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 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 met adversity as the continuous flow 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of land 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 alluring opportunities for those willing to make the huge trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began building 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 procedures established 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 the local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency 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, distinct political communities with numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out massive 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 often helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the risk of an attack.
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To calm these anxieties, 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 to never assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing tales 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people did not completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government frequently decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for territory.
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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, fought back. As they fought to protect their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 responded to these hostilities with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted considerably after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress imagined that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent strategy for 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 grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed common 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 impose federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation process, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American fashion 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 absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing 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 given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet failed to offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people 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 sold to white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order pay bills and provide for their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had intended. Aside from that it created resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration 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 inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian regulations coerced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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