Far 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 centuries, the American Indian developed its customs and heritage without disturbance. 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 plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was just a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon 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 shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, 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 without Indian help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure 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 independence and adventure.
They wanted 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 nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were forced from the territory in question.
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 areas inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, approximately 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 area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced adversity as the constant flow 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States 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 wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those willing to make the huge 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 areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations made and adapted in the United States to outline 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 the native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing 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 generally helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To soothe these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government organised a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed never to 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 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 amongst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last long. After hearing tales 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 area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to surrender their land and move 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 foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for heightened U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most of all many of the native people didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.
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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 attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was too harsh even while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole long-term means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation 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 believed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives viewed assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term 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 move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and religious practices.
To boost the assimilation operation, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
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 program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to increase non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime land 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 policies that outlawed their traditional way of life but did not supply the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease 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 sold to white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land 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 makers of the policy had anticipated. This also produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their days.
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 all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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