Way before the terms Native American or Indian were created, the tribes were spread all over 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 grew its traditions and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s currently the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.
While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the narrative of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.
The European Settler Arrives
When European leaders sent the first vessels in this direction, the objective was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive 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. At 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 understood their survival was doubtful without native help.
Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the drive to push inland followed soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to find even more 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 arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly uniformly ignored once the Indians were forced from the territory in question.
The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, roughly 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 located in contemporary 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 continuous flow 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 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States 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 attractive opportunities for those willing to make the huge journey westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers started building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-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 outline 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 native peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies 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 formed a new agency inside the War Department called the 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, separate political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to force the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, let go of their land and assimilate into the American customs.
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With the steady flow of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of savage 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 cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell 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 likelihood of an attack.
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To calm 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 accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and pledged to never go after 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 signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities amidst 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 testimonies of fertile acreage and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their pledge 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 plan of confining Native Americans to reservations, limited swaths of acreage within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for their use, in order to grant more territory for “” non-Indian settlers.
In a series of new treaties the U.S. government compelled Native Americans to abandon their land and move 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 farming tools. These reservations were created in an attempt to pave the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans separate from the whites in order to lower the chance for conflict.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many problems. Most of all many of the native peoples did not altogether grasp 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 institutions responsible for administering these policies were overwhelmed with poor management and corruption. In fact many treaty provisions were never carried out.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the accords even when the Native Americans went quietly to their reservations. Shady bureau agents frequently sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers needed more property in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for territory.
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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 protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to make Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with significant military operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian policies were in need an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically after the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too harsh while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, regarded 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 government enacted a critical law stating that the United States would not deal with Native American tribes as autonomous nations.
This law signaled a major shift in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress concluded that it would be better to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.
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Many U.S. government representatives perceived assimilation as the most effective remedy for what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the sole lasting method 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 move out of their established dwellings, move into wooden homes and grow into farmers.
The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of living. Some laws outlawed customary spiritual practices while others instructed Indian men to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations organized courts to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.
To speed the assimilation process, the government set up Indian training centers that attempted 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 make this happen goal, the schools compelled students to speak only English, put on proper American clothing and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their traditional tribal identity and the start of their existence as citizens under the complete 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 element of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was developed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress needed to increase non-public title of Indian property by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and offering each family their own parcel of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining land. The General Allotment Act, also known as 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual acreage was to be sold. Congress thought that the Dawes Act would break-up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while cutting down the cost of Indian administration and producing prime property to be purchased by white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next generations they existed under policies that outlawed their traditional approach to life but failed to supply the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant reduction of Indian-owned property. Within three decades, the tribes 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.
Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order to pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely not able to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had intended. This also produced anger among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment practice sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and social centre of their lives.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed drastically. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their homes because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over the years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian policies shoved them into reservations and tried to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands didn’t endure relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to fewer than 250,000 persons. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.
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