Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 customs and legacy 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 much. It’s a narrative of beautiful craft work and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the narrative of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply 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 environment 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 rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of comparative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom 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 that were almost uniformly ignored 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 territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually 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 territory 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 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 along with the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. pretty much doubled the amount of land under 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, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those prepared make the long quest westward. Therefore, 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 parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the 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 initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. designed its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new bureau within 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, 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, hand over their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized stories 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 generally helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the possibility 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. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roadways and forts in this territory and agreed to not 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 agreed to end the hostilities between 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 didn’t last long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage 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 policy of confining Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of acreage within a group’s territory “” 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 migrate 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 agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an effort to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to reduce the potential for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many complications. Most significantly many of the native people didn’t properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments accountable for applying these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents frequently sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more property in the West, the federal government frequently reduced the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s dishonest and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed radically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of pushing Native Americans inside reservations was far too strict 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 singular permanent means of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government passed a pivotal law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This law signaled a major change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, 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 widely acknowledged part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials considered assimilation as the most practical solution to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term strategy for insuring 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 grow into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their established appearance and lifestyle. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others instructed Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up tribunals to enforce federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed up the assimilation operation, the government started Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. As per the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to accomplish this objective, the schools compelled 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 closer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the full control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant part of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to accomplish this, Congress planned to increase private title of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own plot of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over acreage. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and every family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the rest of the land was to be sold. Congress was hoping that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional way of living but did not offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell off their land in order to pay bills and feed their own families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the policy had wished. Further, it generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social hub of their days.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed dramatically. Due to U.S. administration 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 up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over all these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them onto reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to less than 250,000 persons. Due to generations of discriminatory and ruthless policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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