Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 customs 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 currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the experience 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 our direction, the aim was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation 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 the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here understood their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored once the Indians were moved from the territory in question.
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 virtually 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 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 encountered misfortune as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly 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 attractive opportunities for those prepared make the extended quest westward. Therefore, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing 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 regulations and operations developed and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created 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, separate 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 traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing massive 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 generally helped settlers get across 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 feared the likelihood of an attack.
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To soothe these anxieties, 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to ever go after settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land 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 area. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to give up 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 money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to reduce the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t entirely grasp 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 departments responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest 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 federal government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to maintain 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 skirmishes with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted considerably after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole long-term method of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed 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 widely recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
More On American Indian History
Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term means of guaranteeing 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 dwellings and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully 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.” To be able to make this happen objective, the schools required students to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted 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 needed to create private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and giving each family their own plot of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also 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 rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property 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 lived under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but did not supply the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside 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 sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order to pay bills and provide for their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the policy had wished. This also produced anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. 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 inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their land, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian policies coerced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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