Centuries 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 thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture and legacy without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.
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 much. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale 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 vessels in our direction, the objective was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber 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 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, because the Europeans who landed here understood that their survival was doubtful with no Indian 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 impatient 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 that were nearly consistently ignored after the Indians were pushed off the territory in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s almost 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 land of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these various 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would 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 wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those prepared make the long 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 parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations made 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 adopted the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau 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 culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the likelihood of an attack.
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To quiet these concerns, in 1851 the U.S. government placed 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 agreed to not 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t last very long. After hearing stories of fertile land 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 moving west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory “” set aside exclusively for their use, in order to give more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to abandon 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 money in addition to foodstuffs, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increasing U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to decrease the chance for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native people didn’t altogether grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty conditions were never carried out.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly 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 federal government constantly decreased the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant demands for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they fought to defend their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers felt that the scheme of pushing Native Americans into reservations was far too strict even while industrialists, who were concerned with their land and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as independent nations.
This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it would be easier 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 looked at assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only lasting method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to relocate out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden homes and turn into farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to quit their usual appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed common religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized tribunals to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed up the assimilation operation, the government established Indian training centers that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools forced enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was written to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress needed to establish non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, often called 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 remaining territory was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would breakup Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life yet did not provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Inside thirty years, the tribes had lost more than two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their property in order pay bills and take care of 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 anticipated. This also produced resentment among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social centre of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians had been cheated out of their property, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian plans coerced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not survive relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to fewer than 250,000 people. 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 altered permanently.
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