Centuries 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its culture and legacy without disturbance. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the objective was to explore new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently 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 shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years 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 anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were moved away from the territory in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 situated in contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the area 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 delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century in the United States was marked by its continual 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of acreage under 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 alluring possibilities for those ready to make the extended quest westward. As a result, 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.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and procedures established 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 country, it implemented the European policies towards these indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new bureau 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, independent political communities with varying 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 customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not 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 supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.
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To soothe these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 roads and forts in this territory and agreed to never assault 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 amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more land for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought 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 attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 concluded that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting strategy for guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others required Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to enforce federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation course, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, dress in 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 established tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching 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 providing each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, 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 every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be sold to 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 supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the tribes 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order to pay bills and feed their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had wished. This also developed animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social centre of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them on to reservations and attempted 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 under 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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