This project examines the relationship between Native Americans and American settlers since 1877. It will discuss the opinions and attitudes Americans had towards Native Americans, American methods to assimilate them to their more “civilized” lifestyle, unfair land possessions, and the efforts to erase Native American culture completely.
The ancestor of Native Americans came to America sixteen thousand years ago from Asia. Upon their arrival a vast number of cultures had developed. These cultures and people were able to flourish until the arrival of English settlers on the shores of America in 1492. It was at that point that the quality of Native American life started to decrease drastically. Before the English settlers came to America the Native Americans had been peacefully inhabiting the land. English settlers disregarded the rights of Native Americans; they viewed the land as unclaimed and thought of the Native Americans as savages who were uncivilized. Considering that these settlers came to America to have freedom after being persecuted for their religious beliefs in England it was very hypocritical of them to try to eradicate the Native Americans for having a different culture from them.
After the settlers arrived over one thousand five hundred attacks were authorized by the American government against Native Americans which is the highest number that any country in the entire world has ever placed against its own indigenous people. The first attempt by the U.S to remove the Native Americans was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It relocated Native Americans who lived on the east side of the Mississippi River over to the west side of it. Following this, the Trail of Tears where over four thousand Native Americans died occured around the times of 1830 to 1850. To promote the Indian schools the government decided to fund them with the Civilization Fund Act of 1819 that gave federal funding to towns for educating Native Americans.
The actions that the English settlers took to assimilate Native Americans to their culture and eliminate the traditional Native American culture permanently changed the future for Native Americans. The effects are still seen today as their population is remarkably smaller compared to others. This project will highlight America’s efforts on “civilizing” the Native Americans and what this reveals about US history since 1877. As such the project will focus on Indian schools, land disputes, and laws or policies. This theme reflects the changing ideologies of America which is evident through westward expansion, the Reconstruction Era, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Red Scare.
The Native Americans were trying to keep peace with the English settlers and just wanted to live on the land that was rightfully theirs first. The English settlers did not see them as equals and used violence to obtain land. The Native Americans were unable to fight back as the settlers had more advanced weapons such as guns. Not only did the settlers force Native Americans from their land, they used policies to force them to conform to their culture. This coincided with the US’s westward expansion movement. Because the different lifestyle of the Native Americans was in imposition for the settlers expanding west they used assimilation tactics to get rid of them. Through assimilation they would get Native Americans off of reservations which was land the settlers wanted for themselves to farm and build railroads. Removing them from reservations and requiring them to life a farming lifestyle also made Native Americans not self sufficient anymore. After freeing up reservation lands then the Native American children would be sent to Indian Schools to break the tradition of Native American culture. The American Indian Policy allotted Native Americans pieces of land (even though this land was previously theirs) as long as the Native Americans would farm the land they were given. This forced Native Americans to give up their preferred hunting lifestyle for an agricultural lifestyle that the settlers considered normal. “Indian Schools” established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were said to be a way to civilize the Native American children from their savage ways but they were really just a way to get rid of the Native American culture. These schools would be boarding schools so the children would be completely removed from their families. Some of the many things the children were taught included speaking english, believing in Christianity, and the principles of democracy.
During the Reconstruction Era racism was re-establishing an equal but separate society. Voting barriers were implemented into the new state constitution against African Americans such as an annual tax poll and literacy test. (Dunning 1887) Adding these meant it wasn’t explicitly said that African Americans couldn’t vote but the meaning of these voting barriers was quite clear. These purposely prohibited many African Americans from voting and even now a similar event happened in North Dakota. Now the majority of Native Americans reservations use a PO box for their address because they don’t have an actual address. Just this year the Supreme Court has refused to overturn the voter ID law in North Dakota. This law doesn’t allow a PO box to be used in place of an actual address on IDs. With invalid addresses on their ID’s, Native Americans are unable to vote. (Camila 2018) This shows a very similar intention as the voting barriers created during the Reconstruction Era. During the Great Depression the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was passed by President Roosevelt. This act was part of a plan to get the entire country out of depression and reflected the worries of President Roosevelt. The Reorganization Act helped to undo some of the results of Indian assimilation such as, removing the policy of allotment and allowing the tribes to go back to their political and societal traditions. (Howard 1934) In World War II many minority groups joined the army to help fight. The Native Americans were one of these groups. World War II gave them a chance to provide income for their families which helped after the depression. (Robert 2000) The Red Scare however brought back harsher rules for Native Americans. The paranoia of society was reflected in harsher laws such as the creation of “termination”. The government stopped recognizing fifty local tribal government and the government stopped providing Native Americans with subsistence. Because of the assimilation process Native Americans had been forced to become dependant on government subsistence so without the subsistence they struggled. (Robert 2000)
One of the major battles between the Native Americans and English settlers was the Battle of Tippecanoe where a tribal leader Tecumseh, convinced multiple tribes to unite to fight against the settlers. Tecumseh’s death was celebrated by the settlers who were relieved that such a large “danger” and “threat” was gone. However the Narrative of Spoon Decorah and the Narrative of Walking Cloud reveal the true peaceful nature of Tecumseh who was a famously respected chief and what his intentions really were. (Maucchewemahnigo, 1895) The reports of Indian Schools by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs were meant to report the progress of civilizing the Native American children but the settlers prejudices and negative opinions are clearly expresses through the reports comments. (Wilkins, Charles M, 1882) The article from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School paper provides a very different outlook on the Indian schools as it is written from the viewpoint of a Native American student at one of the boarding schools. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first Indian boarding school that started a whole movement of them. The children were completely separated from their culture; they were not allowed to speak their own language, they were given new names, and they had to have haircuts like the settlers.