American Treatment of the Indian Tribes
The American Indian lived a life being one with nature. In their way, they understood the ecological demands of the land and knew that if they took care of the land the land would take care of them. They possessed an untouched wisdom living in harmony with the environment. They hunted the land for buffalo, which provided food and clothing for the ages to come. In time they would almost become non existent at the hands of the “white” man. They would come to lose their land, lose the buffalo and lose their self being and their way of life.
Towards the end of the 1800s the Indian territories were reduced by about 95 percent. The U.S. government along with greedy white settlers was the main reason behind this loss of land. The government placed treaty upon treaty on the Native Americans and would not uphold to any of them. Some treaties were made to guarantee safety and permanent reserve for the Indians, but they were not followed through. In most cases the Indians were driven off the land by white settlers looking for gold or rich farmlands. The U. S. government broke some of the treaties by expanding through the promised lands looking for valuable minerals and making way for the expansion of the railways. The U.S. Government in seeking rights to control the land and its natural resources reverted to “legal” manipulation. In cases were they were met with resistance, the Army was called in to settle the score.
The relocation of the Indians from lands east of the Mississippi River to the West represents a dark phase in American history. In the first treaties signed, there were promises of stability for the Indians. One of these sagas is known as the “Trail of Tears”. This relates to the removal of the Cherokee Indians by the U.S. Army from their native lands in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. During the journey they were held in camps and then forced to travel over 1,000 miles during adverse weather. This trail led them to the Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. This was a catalyst towards the devastation of the American Indian culture.
The greed of the American settlers for land, led to many Indian uprising. Further treaties confined the Indians to smaller and smaller areas. The American Indians were known as migratory hunters who followed the buffalo as their main staple. This led to the belief that Indians had no attachment to any particular lands. This belief ignored the facts that some tribes harvested crops and lived in settled villages. Further push to the West to develop the land resulted in the removal of Indians from those lands.
As the Civil War closed, the Indians with the white settlers moving into their lands and a main source of livelihoodthe buffalothreatened with extinction, was faced with a fundamental choice: surrender or fight. Many chose to fight. In 1887 the Dawes Act made it possible for Indians to own their own land. This Act aiming to end tribal life authorized the President to allot portions of land to individual Indians – 160 acres to each head of family and 80 acres to others. The land was to be used to establish private farms, and authorized the Secretary of Interior to negotiate with the tribes for purchasing “excess” lands for non-Indian settlement. The real purpose of the act was to further break up the tribes by acquiring more land. Tribes as a whole were not willing to give up any portion of the land, but as individual owners, the Indians were more liable to sell the land. This resulted in the Indian land holdings decreasing from 138 million acres to 48 million half of this being barren land.
Assimilation is the process in which one group takes on the cultural and other traits of a larger group. The white men came to this land in search of freedom. In doing so, they obligated themselves to reform all to their ways of thinking and being. They believed the land belonged to them and their role (duty) was to convert the Indians. Many tired but made little or no progress. The policy of “kill the Indian and save the man,” was futile. The Indians remained the same and worse in some cases. They discounted the strong Indian virtues refusing to assimilate with the civilization around them.
The Indian way of life started to fade away in the early 1900s. They had plenty of land and enough buffalo to sustain generations. But, with the pressure from the government and the settlers, their way of life began to disappear. Since the first arrival of the white man, the Indians have been beaten starved, relocated and shot down by the hundred and had survived it all. By 1874 hunters had killing over three million heads of buffalo a year. By 1883 nearly all of the buffalo had disappeared from the Great Plains. The Indians possessed a strong spirit but this too was being broken by the “white” man.
As is well known, the American government honored virtually none of the treaties it signed with the Indians. The Indians had lived in a somewhat peaceful harmony with nature. The government made promises such as owning their land “as long waters run and the grass shall grow.” The Indians would have continued to live “until the end of time” if the white settlers had not intervened. The white settlers created conditions that threatened the existence of the Indians. By the late 1800s, most of the tribes had now been almost completely abolished. The Indians were either beaten into submission or succumbed to the many contagious diseases brought on by the settlers.
By the start of the 1900s there were less than one quarter million Native American Indians in the country. These numbers dwindled from over half a million in the early 1880s and over five million since Columbus first set foot on these lands. Most of the Indians now were living in the small reservations. Beaten, tired and humiliated, they lived in poverty, alcoholism, and unemployment. They were now forced to live off the government as wards of the state. Once the rulers of the West they now a lost culture, having lost their identities and sense of being. Although the freedom of their ancient way of life has been lost, the religion, culture, legends, and spirit of the Native American Indian will always endure.