Way 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 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 parts of what is today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work 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 narrative of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the aim was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate 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 rushed to slice up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed off the land in question.
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 virtually 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 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 met hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 wouldn’t 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 wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive possibilities for those willing to make the long quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations 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 country, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, independent 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, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross 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 risk of an attack.
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To quiet 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and pledged to not attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, in order to provide more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up 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 money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to reduce the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people did not completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most 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, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.
This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 was 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 representatives perceived assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent means of insuring 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 buildings and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government set up Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, put on 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 established 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 approved the General Allotment Act, the most important 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 establish private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration 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 existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet did not provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant decrease 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 enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off 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. This also created animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their homes as 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 the years the Indians have been defrauded out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian regulations forced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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