Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 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 parts of what’s today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful art 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 plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the intention was to explore 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At first, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon 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 restless to locate even more resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were nearly uniformly ignored after 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 motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories inhabited 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 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 misfortune as the continuous stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited 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 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those willing to make the extended trip westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about 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 established 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 adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress made a new agency inside 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, separate political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American traditions.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated 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 certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other necessities 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 possibility 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. Within this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged to not attack 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 in order to accept the terms of the treaty.
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This peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand 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 heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, to be able to grant more territory for “” 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 offered a yearly stipend 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 increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lower the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These deals had many problems. Most significantly many of the native people did not properly grasp the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not respect the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans relocated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers required more property in the West, the government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ constant demands for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s deceitful and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they struggled 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 effort to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted radically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans into reservations was too severe even though industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the sole permanent strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent entities.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed 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 imagined that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term method of protecting 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 grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws banned customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional cultural and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation course, the government established Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously 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.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools required students to speak only English, wear proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. government.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create non-public title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing 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, also known 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 residual land was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and inspire individual enterprise, while trimming the expense of Indian supervision and producing prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional lifestyle and yet didn’t provide the critical resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Inside three decades, the people had lost more than two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and provide for their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had wished. Further, it generated anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment method often destroyed land that was the spiritual and social centre of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Due to U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces 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 ended up defrauded out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations shoved them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Due to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered forever.
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