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 land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is fascinating.

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 arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first vessels in our direction, the goal 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 motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years 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 impatient to find even more 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 shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were forced off 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 determined 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 land of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited 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 in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of territory 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 prepared make the extended 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 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 regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent country, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, independent political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American culture.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing widespread 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 frequently 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 presumed the likelihood 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 roads and forts in this territory and agreed to not go after 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes in order to accept the terms 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 didn’t stand long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances 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 policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people did not properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never implemented.

    The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent hunger for land.

     

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    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 struggled to protect 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 conflicts with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans on to reservations was far too harsh even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 better to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 established dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.

    The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to impose federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To speed the assimilation process, the government established Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this goal, the schools required students to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most important part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to create private ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with 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 wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be purchased by 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 lifestyle but did not supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and feed their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had intended. Further, it developed resentment among Indians for 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 substantially. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces 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 all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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