Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, the tribes were spread throughout 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 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 is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful without native 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 anxious to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.

They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected once 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 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 situated in present day 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 encountered misfortune as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these various 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of land under 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 opportunities for those ready to make the extended journey 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 tribe-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 made 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to apply 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, independent political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports 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 frequently helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility of an attack.

     

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    To quiet these concerns, 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 consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged 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 peacefully 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 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 did not last very long. After hearing stories of fertile terrain 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to provide more property for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up 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 tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native people did not properly grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions responsible for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never carried out.

    The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled 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 effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these hostilities with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was far too strict even while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This law signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress believed that it would be easier 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 administrators viewed assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 established dwellings, move into wooden houses and turn into farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others required Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to impose federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To speed up the assimilation operation, the government set up Indian schools that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools compelled students to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to increase private ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own stretch of land.

    In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet didn’t offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost over 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.

    Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had intended. This also created anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social location of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because 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 the years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian regulations coerced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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