Long 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 territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For centuries, the American Indian developed its culture 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 is currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. 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 our direction, the aim was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here learned their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 that were nearly uniformly neglected after the Indians were pushed 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 occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 present day 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 steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 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 practically 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 alluring opportunities for those willing to make the huge trip westward. Therefore, 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 areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and 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 initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency inside the War Department referred to as 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, distinct political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing widespread 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 get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 possibility of an attack.
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To calm these worries, 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed to not 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 quietly to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold long. After hearing stories of fertile acreage and tremendous 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up their land and migrate 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 food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many problems. Most of all many of the native people didn’t altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the government continually reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to preserve 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 push 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 regulations 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 too harsh 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 singular long-term means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 concluded that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives viewed assimilation as the most practical answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting method of guaranteeing 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to impose federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation operation, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously 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 forced pupils to speak only English, dress in proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion 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 significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to establish private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small 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 awarded 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 expected that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while lowering the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had intended. Aside from that it produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment method sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their homes as 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 these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and ruthless policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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