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 centuries, the American Indian grew its culture and heritage without disturbance. 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 plenty. It’s a story 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 history 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 vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently 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 transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here learned 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 find even more 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 shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were forced 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 inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met misfortune as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly doubled the amount of territory under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the huge journey westward. Therefore, 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 parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures developed 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 nation, it implemented the European policies towards the 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 regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency within the War Department called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked closely with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, independent 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, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out widespread 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 routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these fears, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed to not 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 quietly 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 amongst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last long. After hearing tales of fertile land and tremendous 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 plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to grant 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 move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant demands for territory.
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, fought back. As they fought 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 effort to compel 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 shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a drastic change 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 was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government administrators viewed assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent 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 move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to 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 goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to increase private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and offering each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, referred to 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 territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living yet didn’t supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had anticipated. It also created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through 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 limits, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their property, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian plans coerced them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades 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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