Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.

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

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate 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 shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here learned that their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.

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

It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed off the land 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 territories occupied 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 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 hardship as the steady flow 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented captivating opportunities for those prepared make the long trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts 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 procedures made 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.

    In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency within the War Department called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly 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 force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, give up 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 in no way the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 possibility of an attack.

     

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    To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government placed a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged not to ever assault 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 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 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 “” reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to provide more land for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were given a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for heightened U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t properly understand 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 terms were never executed.

    The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more territory in the West, the federal government constantly decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for land.

     

    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, fought back. As they struggled to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a 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 responded to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme 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 single long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as independent entities.

    This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s 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 U.S. government, Congress imagined that it was 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 practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term method of insuring 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 grow into farmers.

    The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To speed up the assimilation process, 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 created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public title of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. 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 rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime property 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 way of living yet failed to supply the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Frequently, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and feed their 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 expected. Aside from that it generated animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. administration policies, American Indians were forced from their living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filling with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their property, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.

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