Far before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, 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 thousands of years, the American Indian developed its customs and heritage without disturbance. And that history is captivating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s now the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was inevitable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than 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 dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the intention was to explore new resources – however the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from wood 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 raced to slice up the “New World” by sending over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. In the beginning, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here knew their survival was doubtful with no native help.
Thus followed years of relative 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 additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.
It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and famously, treaties that were almost consistently neglected once the Indians were moved away from the land 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 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 contemporary 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 flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these various groups of Indians.
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The early nineteenth century of the United States was marked by its continual 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 did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. roughly doubled the amount of land within 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 captivating possibilities for those prepared make the huge journey 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 areas of the Native American group-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 define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States first became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over the course of two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.
In 1824, in order to apply the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency inside the War Department called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly 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 compel the Native American tribes to give up their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian “” 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 far from the norm; in fact, Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers get across 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 possibility of an attack.
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To quiet 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 roads and forts in this territory and pledged to not assault 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 peacefully 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 agreement between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not hold very long. After hearing reports of fertile acreage and great 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, small swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, to be able to grant more territory for the non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government made 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 tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. growth 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 complications. Most of all many of the native peoples did not altogether grasp the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government departments responsible for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty provisions were never accomplished.
The U.S. government almost never held up their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents often sold the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more land in the West, the government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, most of the Native American people were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger 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 preserve their territories and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to compel Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these skirmishes with costly military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need of a change.
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Native American policy shifted drastically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans into reservations was far too severe while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, considered assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the lone permanent means of assuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government passed a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous entities.
This legislation signaled a significant change in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now considered 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 concluded that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely recognised part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single lasting strategy for guaranteeing 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 dwellings and become farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their usual appearance and lifestyle. Some laws banned common spiritual practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long hair. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to enforce federal polices that often banned traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government started Indian schools that tried to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the director of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” To be able to achieve this objective, the schools compelled enrollees to speak only English, dress in proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new policies helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their classic tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, the most significant element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to create non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own block of land.
In addition to this, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, also referred to 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 rest of the acreage was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would break up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while trimming the cost of Indian supervision and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act proved to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living and yet didn’t offer the critical resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the territory that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order to pay bills and take care of their families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the policy had expected. This also produced resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and societal center of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed radically. Through U.S. government regulations, American Indians were forced from their living spaces because 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 ended up cheated out of their territory, food and approach to life, as the federal government’s Indian policies coerced them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not make it through relocation, assimilation and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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