Far before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, 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 interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what’s now the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a story of beautiful art 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 tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and deeply connected to nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the intention was to discover new resources – but the quality of climate and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to carve up the “New World” by shipping over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who came ashore here knew that their survival was doubtful without Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative 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 find even more resources, and some colonists came for independence and adventure.
They required 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 notoriously, treaties that were almost uniformly neglected after the Indians were pushed 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 territories inhabited by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 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 encountered misfortune as the constant stream of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. nearly 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring opportunities for those ready to make the huge quest 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 parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.
Native American Tribes
Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and 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 an independent nation, it adopted the European policies towards the native peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. adapted its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.
In 1824, in order to administrate the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency within 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, 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, surrender their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady flow of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers published sensationalized reports of savage native tribes committing widespread massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes often helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle 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 presumed the risk of an attack.
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To soothe these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government presented 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 roadways and forts in this territory and agreed not to attack 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 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 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 did not hold long. After hearing stories of fertile acreage and great 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 restricting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, to be able to give more land for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were offered a yearly payment that would include money in addition to foodstuffs, livestock, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were established in an attempt to pave the way for heightened U.S. expansion and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These agreements had many challenges. Most of all many of the native peoples did not entirely grasp the document that they were signing or the conditions within it; further, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government agencies responsible for applying these policies were plagued with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never executed.
The U.S. government rarely honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans moved quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the federal government continually cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless hunger for territory.
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Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to force Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with costly military operations. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.
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Native American policy shifted dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans onto reservations was far too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned about their land and resources, looked at assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government approved a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
This legislation signaled a significant shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now regarded the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdictional control, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress presumed 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 effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the only long-term method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.
The federal government passed laws that pressed Native Americans to quit their established appearance and way of life. 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 founded tribunals to impose federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To speed up the assimilation operation, the government started Indian training centers that tried to quickly and vigorously 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.” In order to achieve this goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, wear proper American clothing and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the conclusion of their original tribal identity and the start of their daily life as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. administration.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was intended to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress planned to increase private title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively held, and providing each family their own block of land.
Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto limited plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, often called the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults received between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress hoped that the Dawes Act would divide Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the expense of Indian supervision and serving up prime property 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 lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living yet failed to offer the vital resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into smaller parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within 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.
Frequently, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell off their property in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Because of that, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were often not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the makers of the Act had intended. Aside from that it created animosity among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes destroyed land that was the spiritual and social location of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Due to U.S. administration policies, 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 these years the Indians have been defrauded out of their territory, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian plans shoved them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, cultural destruction and military defeat; by 1890 the Native American population was decreased to under 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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