Long 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 grew its culture and legacy without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders dispatched the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – but the quality of environment and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish raced to carve 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 arrived here learned their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 anxious to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and opportunity.
They needed 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 which were nearly consistently neglected after 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 determined by the desire to expand westward into regions inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly 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 situated 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 experienced adversity as the steady stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century in 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 in addition to 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 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 captivating opportunities for those willing to make the huge journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created 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 give up their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized stories of savage native tribes carrying out massive 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 generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other supplies 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 possibility of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, 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 pledged not to attack 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 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 stand very long. After hearing reports of fertile terrain 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 region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for Indian use, to be able to provide more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded Native Americans to give up their land and move 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, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort 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 reduce the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most of all many of the native peoples didn’t completely grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus responsible for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty conditions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more land in the West, the government continually reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless appetite for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these conflicts with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans on to reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the single permanent means of 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 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 “” government, Congress believed that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators perceived assimilation as the most effective solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting 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 relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden homes and become farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that required Native Americans to abandon their usual appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation course, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian youth. According to 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 compelled students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies brought Native Americans closer to the end of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create private ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own stretch of land.
Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian supervision and providing prime land to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not supply the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned land. Inside thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had intended. This also generated resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural hub of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. 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 filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their land, food and lifestyle, as the “” government’s Indian policies forced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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