Far 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is today the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a story of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly advanced buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was simply 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 ships in our direction, the intention was to explore new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon 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 poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At first, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here understood that their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence 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 famously, treaties which were almost uniformly neglected after the Indians were pushed away 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 almost 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 misfortune as the steady flow 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 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 U.S. practically doubled the amount of land under its control.
These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wanted to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those prepared make the huge journey westward. As a result, 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 areas of the Native American group-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define 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 the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying regulations regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau 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 different 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 flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized reports of cruel native tribes carrying out 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 routinely helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 risk of an attack.
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To quiet these fears, 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 tracks 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 gross 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 accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile terrain and great mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge 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 policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, limited areas of land within a group’s territory that was set aside exclusively for their use, in order to grant more property for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender their land and migrate 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 food, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to pave 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 problems. Most of all many of the native people did not altogether understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible 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 deals even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers required more property in the West, the government constantly decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ constant hunger for territory.
A Look at Native American Symbols
Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to maintain their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was too severe while industrialists, who were worried about their land and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the single permanent means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law stating that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.
This legislation signaled a major shift 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 imagined that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government administrators looked at assimilation as the most effective answer to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting means of protecting U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government urged Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that required Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed traditional spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to impose federal regulations that often prohibited traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To hasten the assimilation process, the government set up Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. 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 goal, the schools required enrollees to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the full control of the U.S. authorities.
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 teaching them to become farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress needed to create non-public title of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and allowing each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto limited plots of land, 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 each family be awarded an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and encourage individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and providing prime property to be purchased by 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 yet did not supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order 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, like the makers of the policy had expected. It also generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural location of their lives.
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 places of residence as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them on to reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands would not survive relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to fewer than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.
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