Way before the terms Native American or Indian were created, 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 centuries, the American Indian grew its traditions 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 now the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts 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 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 our direction, the goal 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 heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who arrived 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 followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.
They required more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored once 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 determined by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, approximately 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 met adversity as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century of 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of acreage within its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes 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 prepared 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 laws and regulations and procedures 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 an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to apply 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, distinct political communities with numerous 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 customs.
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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 widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the possibility of an attack.
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To calm these worries, 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 tracks and forts in this territory and agreed to never go after 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing stories of fertile land and great 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 policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” reserved exclusively for their use, in order to offer more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made Native Americans to surrender their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly stipend that would include cash in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and administration 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 challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples did not completely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies accountable for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more land in the West, the government frequently decreased the size of Indian reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for territory.
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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 struggled to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these conflicts with significant 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 felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans onto reservations was too harsh even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the only permanent means of 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 independent entities.
This law signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 presumed that it would be 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 officials looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole permanent method of protecting 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 buildings and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To boost the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously 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 make this happen goal, the schools required students to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and providing each family their own stretch 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, better known 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 remaining acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense 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 regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land brought about the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had wished. This also created animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice often ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their lives.
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 homes 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 policies forced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. Due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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