Ages 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 centuries, the American Indian developed its culture and heritage without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.
From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern parts of what is currently the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a tale of beautiful arts and crafts and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate buildings and public works.
While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the experience 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 this direction, the aim was to explore new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife subsequently changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.
The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by shipping over poorly prepared colonists as fast as possible. At the outset, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that shortly gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here knew that their survival was doubtful with no Indian help.
Thus followed decades of relative 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 impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and opportunity.
They wanted more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.
It took the form of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties which were almost uniformly ignored after the Indians were pushed off 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, 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 contemporary 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 encountered adversity as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse 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 wouldn’t end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States roughly doubled the amount of acreage 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, combined with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those ready to make the extended trip westward. As a result, 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 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 first became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. adapted its very own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American supervision.
In 1824, in order to administer the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress created a new agency within 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, 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, let go of their land and assimilate into the American culture.
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With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes committing 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 often helped settlers get across the Plains. Not only did the American Indians sell wild game and other supplies to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the friendly natures of the American Indians, settlers still anticipated the risk of an attack.
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To calm these fears, in 1851 the U.S. government organised 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 never to assault 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 entered into the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities between 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 stand long. After hearing tales of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by permitting thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers moving west, the federal government established a policy of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of land within a group’s territory that was reserved exclusively for Indian use, in order to give more property 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 given a yearly stipend that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural equipment. These reservations were established in an attempt to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to decrease the potential for friction.
History of the Plains Indians
These accords had many challenges. Most importantly many of the native peoples did not altogether understand the document that they were signing 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 applying these policies were weighed down with poor management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never implemented.
The U.S. government rarely fulfilled their side of the deals even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents often sold off the supplies that were intended for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Additionally, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the federal government frequently cut the size of Indian reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were dissatisfied with the treaties and angered by settlers’ persistent hunger for land.
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Angered by the government’s deceitful and unjust policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, battled back. As they fought to protect their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one 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 operations. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required an adjustment.
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Native American policy changed dramatically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the scheme of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was too severe even though industrialists, who were concerned about their property and resources, viewed assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” as the only long-term strategy for guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the federal government enacted a pivotal law stating that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as independent entities.
This law signaled a significant shift in the government’s working 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 would be easier to make the policy of assimilation a broadly recognized 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 long-term strategy for guaranteeing 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 customary dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and turn into farmers.
The federal government enacted laws that forced Native Americans to abandon their traditional appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed traditional religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations set up courts to implement federal regulations that often restricted traditional ethnic and religious practices.
To hasten the assimilation operation, the government started Indian training centers 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 forced enrollees to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations brought Native Americans nearer to the end of their established tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.
Native American Treaties with the United States
In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to become farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress planned to establish non-public ownership of Indian land by dividing reservations, which were collectively owned, and issuing each family their own block of land.
In addition to this, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, better known as 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 were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime property to be sold to white settlers.
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The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional approach to life and yet failed to provide the vital resources to support their businesses and households. Dividing the reservations into smaller parcels of land led to the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within thirty years, the people had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.
Usually, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property 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, as the makers of the policy had wished. It also generated animosity among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and societal focus of their activities.
Native American Culture
Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed substantially. Through U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their homes as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without limits, were now filled with white settlers.
The Upshot of the Indian Wars
Over these years the Indians had been cheated out of their land, food and way of living, as the federal government’s Indian regulations forced them onto reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands did not survive relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 persons. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States authorities between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed forever.
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