Far before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 centuries, the American Indian developed its traditions and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here learned 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 came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They wanted 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 notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were forced off 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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 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 delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t 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 possibilities 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 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 operations established and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of cruel 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 repeatedly helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies 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 possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 never to go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross annual 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile land and great 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to offer more territory for the 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 given a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never executed.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought 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 reacted to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the singular permanent means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 believed that it was 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 representatives considered assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting strategy for 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 relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and lifestyle. 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 established courts to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation process, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this goal, the schools compelled pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to create private title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also known 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 remaining territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet failed to provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within 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.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had expected. Aside from that it created resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often ruined land that was the spiritual and societal location 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 filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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