Way before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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’s currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply 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
When European leaders sent the first ships in this direction, the aim was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive 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 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 understood that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were moved away from the land 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 areas occupied 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 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 adversity as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 as well as 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 land 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 possibilities for those ready to make the huge quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building 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 laws and regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards the native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing 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 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 numerous 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 in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes carrying out 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 often helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted 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 fears, in 1851 the U.S. government held 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed to never attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total annual 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 to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain and tremendous 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to offer more land for “” 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 cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increasing U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many complications. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t entirely grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more territory in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to protect their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was far too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only permanent method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as independent nations.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most effective answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single 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 move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation process, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to establish private 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, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, referred to 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 land was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian administration and producing prime land to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet didn’t provide the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had intended. This also developed resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment operation 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 radically. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans forced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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