At the turn of the twentieth century, around 250,000 Indians lived on reservations in the Great Plains. They exercised self-governance to a limited degree and maintained their cultures and beliefs closely tied to their way of life (Boxer, 2018). During the nineteenth century, the relationship between native Indians and the United States government was troubled because the US government was trying to expand into the American West. The Native Americans, made up of Indian tribes were against this expansion, but the government was ready to thwart any resistance towards the expansion. Various strategies were employed to deal with Indian colonies. Signed treaties were not honored, and more wars broke out between the Indians and the American government. Fed up with the Indian Wars, the U.S. government officials found an alternative to the expensive battles and meaningless treaties. The alternative was the Americanization of Indians. The efforts to assimilate Indian communities completely into the American culture led to the loss of American Indian life and gave the Indian tribes no choice but to abandon their culture.
Negotiation was the first strategy used, and the first treaty (“Treaty of Fort Laramie”) between the Indian tribe chiefs and the US government was signed in 1851. This was the first time the Indian tribes had won against the United States and dictated the peace terms (Debo 223). The federal government promised annual payments and non-interference in exchange for the Indian land. However, these payments did not reach the tribes. Instead of honoring the treaty, the white settlers tried to force the Indians out of their land. This led to the civil war in Dakota which would lead to a series of wars between the Lincoln administration and the Indian tribes (Prucha 445). In 1862, Sioux Indians attacked white settlers in Minnesota leading to the killing of 1000 settlers. In retaliation, the federal army captured 400 Sioux Indians and hanged 38 in a mass execution.
The white settlers demanded the removal of the Sioux Indians from the state and the federal government heeded and authorized the removal of the Indians from Minnesota and directed that they are placed outside the limits of any existing state (Prucha 446). The Sioux were moved to the crow creek. The creek was a barren spot, and the Indians would later move around like Immigrants looking for better reservations to live in. In the sand creek massacre in 1864, Colonel John John Chivington would lead a raid on an Indian camp that had already surrendered and killed over 100 people (Prucha 459). After this massacre, the second treaty of Laramie and the treaty of Lodge Creek were signed to avoid further clashes. The treaties led to the further displacement of the Sioux to the black hills. Gold was discovered in these hills, and the white settlers moved in for illegal digging, a move that led to the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Indians were defending their land. Meanwhile, Colonel George Cluster attacked an Indian encampment on June 25, 1876 killing over a hundred people, black kettle and taking women and children as prisoners (Prucha 496). This turned out to be a thoughtless move as the encampment consisted of 3000 Indian warriors. Sitting Bull and his force brutally killed Custer and his men. Sitting Bull was later captured and killed by the federal troops.
The Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota was the final battle between Indians and federal army (Debo 313). The Sioux tribe decided to surrender after the death of Sitting Bull. However, an accidental weapon discharge led to un-aimed firing by the federal troops and led to the massacre of around 300 men, women, and children. The series of wars had led to the loss of a significant number of American Indian lives. The Indian Wars were costly; thus, the U.S. government abandoned the treaty method and resorted to Americanization as an alternative strategy.
Americanization and Loss of Culture
The Americanization of Indians began in the 1880s. The reformers believed that the Indians could be civilized and assimilated into the American culture (Adams 3). The U.S. government made reforms to place Indian children in American boarding schools and change their religion to Christianity. These children were forced to adopt the American way of life and were forced to give up their traditions. As a final step of Americanization, Indians were forced to fire their last arrow into the air, after which they would strip into a white farmer’s coverall and would carry an American flag, thus, officially assimilating into the American way of life.
The enrollment of Indian children in American boarding schools forced native American Indians to abandon their secluded lives (Ryan, 2018). Children were separated from their parents and would not see each other for months or years. The schools were set up military style to make it easier to model the behavior of the children. The children were separated from the parents to reduce the impact of their native language since the reformers aimed at changing the children’s language. This was devastating for the children because they had to let go of their native language, cultural beliefs, and traditions. If caught speaking their native language, the children were severely punished. A breakdown in communication arose between the young ones and their parents and grandparents since they did not learn their native language. Their parents were not taught English to enable them to be bilingual. The loss of language led to a loss of a vital way to maintain customs, cultural concepts, and practices as they could not pass them on to the children.
Changing the religious beliefs of the Indians to Christianity was another attempt by Americanization reformers to bring civilization. It was an attempt to do away with their religious practices and customs, which were termed evil by the white settlers ((Ryan, 2018). The Indians began changing their beliefs as they experienced new social and religious rules. Religious ceremonies that were a part of the Indian culture were deemed illegal by the government while the churches condemned them as evil. These ceremonies were a part of the culture and identity of the Indian people. As a result, more culture was lost, and traditions abandoned. The white settlers forced the native Indian people to follow their ceremonies, both social and religious. Beliefs of the Indian people have since changed over time, and, today, some do not believe in their own culture and people. Educated children could not communicate with their parents due to the language barrier and the ceremonies that brought them together as a community were abolished. According to Otten & Dennis (2018), the outcome was a complete loss of Indian culture and loss of identity because they could not own the new beliefs as their own.
The attempts to assimilate the Indian people into the American culture began in the 1880s due to the high cost of the Indian wars and treaties that were not bearing fruits in their attempts to expand to the American West. The Indian wars started with the Dakota war that led to the death of 1000 white settlers. The federal army responded by executing 38 Sioux and capturing 400 of them. The raid by Colonel John John Chivington led to the death of over 100 people and was followed by the battle of the wounded knee which was the last battle before the resolve by the government to Americanize the Indians. In an attempt at civilization, children were taken away from home to the military like boarding schools. The aim was to reduce the influence of the parents on their children so that their culture, behavior, and language could be easily changed. Families were deliberately separated.
During the process of Americanization, many Indian lives and culture were lost. A communication barrier arose between the parents and their children since the children were only allowed to speak in English while their parents were not taught English. The breakdown in communication meant that custom concepts would not be passed on to the children leading to the loss of culture. Religious practices belonging to the whites were forced on the native Indians, and their ceremonies were termed evil and illegal. Their sense of cultural practices and traditions was wiped out. The loss of culture affected the children who could not identify with their keen. The loss of American Indian life and the loss of culture is evident in the efforts to expand to the American West by the federal government and the assimilation of native Indians to the American culture.
Adams, David Wallace. “Fundamental considerations: The deep meaning of Native American schooling, 1880-1900.” Harvard educational review 58.1 (1988): 1-29.
Boxer, Andrew. “Native Americans And the Federal Government | History Today”. Historytoday.Com, 2018, https://www.historytoday.com/andrew-boxer/native-americans-and-federal-government. Accessed 7 Dec 2018.
Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.
Otten, George, and Dennis Bellafiore. “What It Means to Be Native American In Twenty-First Century America | GEOG 571: Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, And Homeland Security”. E-Education.Psu. Edu, 2018, https://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog571/node/155. Accessed 7 Dec 2018.
Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Vol. 1. U of Nebraska Press, 1995.
Ryan, Robert. “Native American Indian Cultural Risk Factors – Contact to Termination”. Indigenouspolicy.Org, 2018, http://www.indigenouspolicy.org/index.php/ipj/article/view/338/325. Accessed 7 Dec 2018.