Far before the terms Native American or Indian were created, the tribes were spread throughout the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.
For centuries, the American Indian developed 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 parts of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. 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 independence and opportunity.
They required more space. And so began the process of forcing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost consistently ignored after the Indians were moved away from the territory 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 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 area of the Southern Plains.
The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered 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 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 U.S. nearly doubled the amount of land within 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 ready to make the extended quest 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 procedures made and adapted in the United States to summarize the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign nation, it adopted the European policies towards these native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
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, independent political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, surrender their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing massive 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 sell 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 anticipated the risk of an attack.
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To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government kept 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 never to assault 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 entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities between 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 testimonies of fertile terrain and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises 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 confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to provide more property for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government commanded 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 payment that would include cash in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to clear the way for increasing 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 deals had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not completely understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not respect the cultural norms of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for administering these policies were plagued with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the deals even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the government constantly reduced the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent demands for territory.
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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, 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 push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these hostilities with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.
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Native American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was far too severe even while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only long-term strategy for assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government approved a critical law stating that the United States would no longer deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s 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 imagined that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives looked at assimilation as the most practical remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single permanent method of guaranteeing U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to move out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that forced Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed common spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen objective, the schools required students to speak only English, wear proper American fashion and to switch their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the end of their traditional tribal identity and the beginning of their life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress approved the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to establish non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own block of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, 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 received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining territory was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and serving up 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 decades they lived under policies that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes had lost more than 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.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their land in order to pay bills and take care of their own families. Consequently, 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 produced animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal hub of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through 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 restriction, were now filling with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians have been cheated out of their land, food and approach to life, as the “” government’s Indian policies shoved them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of generations of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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