Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 culture and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the objective 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 drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were pushed off the land 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost all Native American tribes, approximately 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 situated in present day 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 met hardship as the constant stream 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 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically 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 attractive possibilities for those ready to make the huge quest westward. As a result, 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 tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and procedures made and adapted in the United States to summarize 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 native peoples, but over 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 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, 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 culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served 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 calm these worries, 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 not to ever assault 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 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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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not last very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage 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 land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to provide more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most of all many of the native people didn’t completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.
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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 preserve their territories 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 conflicts with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone permanent means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress imagined that it would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting method of protecting 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 turn into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation operation, the government established Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to establish private title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, 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 each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and producing prime land 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 generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but did not offer the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell their land in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had wished. It also created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. administration 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 these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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