Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For centuries, the American Indian developed its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. 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 ships in our direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here learned their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.

They required more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected once the Indians were forced from the land 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 contemporary 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 encountered misfortune as the steady stream 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 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 in addition to 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 territory 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating opportunities for those ready to make the long journey 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 areas 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 operations established and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute 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 compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, hand over 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 circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing 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 repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 feared the risk of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 ever attack 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 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 amidst 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 last very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t entirely understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never executed.

    The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the federal government constantly cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant appetite for territory.

     

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    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought 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 effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was far too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular long-term strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.

    This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed 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 presumed that it was easier 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 officials looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term means of protecting U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of living. 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 set up courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.

    To accelerate the assimilation operation, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per 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 objective, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual acreage was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and serving up 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 policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle yet didn’t provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had desired. Further, it created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal center 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 housing 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 have been defrauded out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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