Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 thousands of years, 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 parts of what is today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the tale of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber 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 slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

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

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

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored 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 influenced by the desire to expand westward into regions inhabited 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 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 hardship as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of land within its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves 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 alluring opportunities for those prepared make the long trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau inside 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, 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, hand over 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 possibility of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these anxieties, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to attack 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 agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able 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 did not last very 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 allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp 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 terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the government constantly cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for territory.

     

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    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought 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 reacted to these hostilities with costly 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 considerably following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too harsh even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole long-term strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This law signaled a major 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 U.S. government, Congress presumed that it would be 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 officials considered assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term method 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 move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to enforce federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To speed the assimilation process, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, 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 policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.

     

    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 accomplish this, Congress wanted to increase private ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving 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 left over land. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 residual territory was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet didn’t offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside three decades, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had intended. Aside from that it produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and social location of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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