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 centuries, the American Indian developed 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’s today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history 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 vessels in this direction, the objective was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather 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 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 ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

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

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly neglected once 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 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 experienced misfortune as the steady 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 in 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of land within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating possibilities 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 set about building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to outline 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 these local peoples, but over 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 administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau within 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, distinct political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force 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 in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of cruel 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 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 presumed the likelihood of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government placed a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and agreed to not go after 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 signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage 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 heading west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more land for the 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 agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower 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 confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government continually decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 hostilities with significant 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 dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 concluded that it would be easier 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 solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole long-term means of guaranteeing 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of living. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to implement federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start 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 important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase non-public ownership of Indian property 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 acreage. The General Allotment Act, better known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the acreage 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 serving up prime land 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 generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not offer the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the people had lost in excess of 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.

    Regularly, 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. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had intended. It also generated anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal center of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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