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 customs and heritage without disturbance. And that history is captivating.
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 story of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. 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 environment and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, because the Europeans who arrived here understood their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence 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 which were nearly consistently neglected once the Indians were forced 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 regions inhabited 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 located 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 misfortune as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States pretty much doubled the amount of land within 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 captivating opportunities for those prepared make the huge 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 tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and operations developed and adapted in the United States to outline the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent country, it implemented the European policies towards these native peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency 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, distinct political communities with different 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 printed sensationalized reports 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 frequently 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 friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the likelihood of an attack.
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To soothe 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 roadways and forts in this territory and pledged not to go after 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 consented to end the hostilities amongst their tribes to be able 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 last very long. After hearing tales of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, to be able to give more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth 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 accords had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government frequently cut the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent appetite for territory.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought 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 effort to make 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 required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed considerably after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was too strict even though industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole long-term strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress presumed that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators viewed assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting means 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 relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden houses and grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned customary religious practices while others required Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional cultural and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation operation, the government started Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian kids. 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 students to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic 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 enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to establish private ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and offering 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 acreage. 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 territory was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and serving up prime land 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 existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living yet did not provide the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost over two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and take care of their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had desired. It also developed animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus of their days.
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 as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, 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 life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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