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 developed its traditions and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.
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 narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in our 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 heard back from their explorers, the motivation 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 possible. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were forced away from the territory 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, 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced 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 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the extended trip westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing 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 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 country, it implemented the European policies towards the local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau within the War Department referred to as 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, 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 stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published 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 certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross 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 good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To calm these anxieties, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to go after 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 quietly to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the government frequently decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.
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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 maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone long-term means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only permanent means of guaranteeing 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 houses and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to establish non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the territory was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration 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 generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost over 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.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had expected. Aside from that it generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian policies coerced them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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