Way 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 land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For centuries, the American Indian grew 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 is today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply 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 sent the first vessels in this direction, the plan was to explore new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. In the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood that their survival was doubtful with no native 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 freedom and adventure.
They required 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 once the Indians were moved 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 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 experienced misfortune as the continuous flow 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 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of territory within 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 ready to make the long quest westward. Therefore, 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 tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau 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 numerous cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely 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 good 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 presented 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 tracks 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 total 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 consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for their use, to be able to offer more land for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to abandon their land and move 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 farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most of all many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger 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 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too strict even while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress believed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent 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 relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian youth. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
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 platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and allowing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also known 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering 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 lived under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet didn’t provide the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes 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 their property in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had wished. This also produced resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian regulations forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 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 forever.
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