Long before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 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 regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the narrative of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first ships in our direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 inadequately prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here understood their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to find additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were moved from the territory 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 areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, approximately 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 located 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 encountered hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these diverse groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century of 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 roughly doubled the amount of territory under 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 attractive opportunities for those prepared make the long journey 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 tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures made 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 nation, it adopted the European policies towards the local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its very own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency within the War Department referred to as Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly 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 give up their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published 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 frequently helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the possibility of an attack.
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To soothe these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 agreed not to ever 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 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 amidst 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 did not hold very long. After hearing tales of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to provide more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled 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 payment that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lessen the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many problems. Most importantly many of the native peoples didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more territory in the West, the government constantly cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger 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 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 force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with significant military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was far too severe 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 only long-term strategy for ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded 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 accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators considered assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting method 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 relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal regulations that often prohibited traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation course, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this objective, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their original tribal identity and the beginning of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. government.
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 developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over territory. The General Allotment Act, referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while reducing the cost of Indian administration and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle but didn’t offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order to pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the policy had expected. Aside from that it developed anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social focus 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 living spaces as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed alone, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been cheated out of their territory, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans coerced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 persons. Thanks 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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