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 territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For centuries, the American Indian developed its traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.

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

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the objective was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve 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 soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

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

They wanted 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 notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were moved off the territory in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, lived 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 territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered hardship as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States practically doubled the amount of acreage under 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 willing to make the long trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building 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 laws and regulations and procedures developed 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 nation, it implemented the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to administer 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 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 abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.

     

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    To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed never to go after 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 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 conditions of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was 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 give up their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These deals had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to defend 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans into reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent method of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.

    This law signaled a major shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting strategy for 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 traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned 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 tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To speed the assimilation operation, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create private ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own parcel of land.

    In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian administration and providing prime property to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet failed to offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, 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 purchased by white settlers.

    Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had expected. It also produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social location of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over the years the Indians had been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. 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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