Long before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 customs and heritage 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 now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a tale 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 nothing more than 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 dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 carve up the “New World” by sending over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find additional resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties that were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were moved from the land 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 area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met hardship as the constant flow 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 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 would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of territory 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 attractive possibilities for those willing to make the extended journey westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started 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 procedures developed and adapted in the United States to define 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 these indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau within 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, let go of 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 stories of cruel native tribes carrying out widespread 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 repeatedly helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 presumed the risk of an attack.
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To quiet these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 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 agreed to end the hostilities between 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 did not hold very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 limiting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more property for the 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 offered a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for heightened 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 potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions 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. Unethical bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government frequently reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to protect 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 make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of pushing Native Americans on to reservations was far too harsh while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole permanent means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 imagined that it was better 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 viewed assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting strategy for protecting U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. As per 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 accomplish this objective, the schools required pupils to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. administration.
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 platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining acreage. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian supervision 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 generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their land in order pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the creators of the Act had desired. This also produced animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and way of life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them on to reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t survive relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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