Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a tale of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the plan was to discover new resources – however the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here learned that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and famously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored once the Indians were pushed away 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 areas occupied 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 territory of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered adversity as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 United States practically doubled the amount of territory 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those ready to make the long quest 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 areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign nation, it implemented the European policies towards the native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau within 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, independent political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage native tribes committing 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 frequently 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 genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.
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To calm these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government placed a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed never to assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make 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 conditions of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile land and great 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more territory for the 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 given a yearly payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to reduce the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples didn’t properly grasp 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 agencies accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents sometimes sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ endless hunger for land.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted considerably following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans on to reservations was too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a critical law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s working 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 concluded 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 officials viewed assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the sole 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 urged Native Americans to move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden houses and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to quit their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal polices that often prohibited traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To accelerate the assimilation process, the government established Indian facilities that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. As per the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start 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 significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to create non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own parcel of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. 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 trimming the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property 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 decades they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet did not supply the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Inside 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.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their land in order to pay bills and provide for their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had intended. Aside from that it created animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Due to 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 without restriction, were now inhabited with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to under 250,000 people. As a result of generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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