Far 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. 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 narrative 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 sent the first vessels in our direction, the objective was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber 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 carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.

Thus followed decades 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were forced from 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied 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 situated 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 constant 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 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. practically doubled the amount of acreage under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 huge trip 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 group-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and operations developed and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency inside 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, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled 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 not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes often helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 roads and forts in this territory and agreed to never go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total 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 consented to end the hostilities amongst 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 did not stand long. After hearing reports 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 heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to offer more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made 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, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many complications. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more territory in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant demands for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with costly military operations. Clearly 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 changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent nations.

    This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress imagined that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators viewed assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting strategy for 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.

    To speed up the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. 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 objective, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to increase non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every 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 was hoping that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian supervision 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 lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life but didn’t supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had desired. This also developed anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social focus of their lives.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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