Far before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread throughout 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its culture and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the plan was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather 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 sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived here knew that their survival was doubtful with no 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 additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost uniformly ignored once the Indians were forced from the land in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were influenced by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 present day Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated 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 as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of land under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 attractive possibilities for those ready to make the extended journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers began establishing 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 regulations and procedures developed 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 local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed 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, let go of 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 reports of savage 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 often helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer 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 presumed the possibility of an attack.
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To calm these anxieties, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 never attack settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make gross 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 agreed to end the hostilities amidst their tribes in order to accept the conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand long. After hearing reports 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 heading west, the federal government established a plan of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory “” earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to surrender 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 tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for applying these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property 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’ endless hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed radically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was too strict while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the lone permanent strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This law signaled a drastic shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials viewed assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term means of 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to quit their traditional appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned traditional religious practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established tribunals to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government started Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to achieve this objective, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to establish private ownership of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life but didn’t provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the people had lost over two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted 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 feed 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. Aside from that it developed anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal center of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed tremendously. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their places of residence because 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 all these years the Indians had been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of living, as the “” government’s Indian regulations shoved them inside reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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