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Native American History

Native American History

North America has been the cradle of various unique cultures. Of all the nations of the world, the U.S. is the most distinguished by multiethnic composition, and, in its turn, of all nations of American multinational society, Native Americans constitute its greatest part. Since the start of development of the North American continent by Europeans and to this day, one can see the process of collision of traditional (Indian) and new (Euro-American) cultures. During the history, European Americans and the Indians had many conflicts and fights. At present, history of relations between Indians and Americans can be divided into three stages – assimilation, “melting pot” and multiculturalism. The latter is considered the most appropriate and beneficial to the preservation and revitalization of cultural traditions of all existing in America ethnic groups. Unfortunately, Native Americans did not manage to avoid cultural assimilation; moreover, the cultural adaptation, acquiring various forms, continues to this day. For centuries, the country has been pursuing an aim to create a single American community, resorting to various methods of resolving the most important issues, taking special laws, establishing the organization and running various programs. These actions led to an almost complete assimilation of indigenous inhabitants to the “new” community.

Integration of Native Americans into European-American society begins with the very fact of European settlement on the North American continent. However, the intention of a new society to eliminate the indigenous population was institutionalized with the acknowledgment of such a document as “Future Treaties with Indian Tribes” in 1871. At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States began to build a new and powerful country, and the conflicts with Indian tribes were one of the key factors hindering the U.S. authorities from further union of the States. The document allowed the U.S. authorities to legally take the land that was belonging to Indian tribes. It, in fact, eliminated the Indians as a separate nation, de jure making them integrate into American society. What is important, there were many treaties signed between American and Indian sides before the acknowledgment of the document “Future Treaties with Indian Tribes”. Nevertheless, all the preceding documents and arrangements were not canceled (“Future treaties with Indian tribes”, 1871). As a result, all the success in settling differences between the sides was lost. This started the process of Indian complete assimilation.

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One should not realize that confrontation between Indians and Europeans was rather ambiguous. Taking into account the intentions of American authorities in regard to the Indian tribes and, what is more important, their land, frequent fights between the U.S. military forces and Indian tribes were more than frequent. Therefore, the last battle between the natives and newcomers was a key event in the history of Native American integration. The Battle of the Little Bighorn distinguishes among the others by being a defining moment for Indians in their fight for the rights and freedoms as a separate ethnicity (“The battle for Little Big Horn”). The importance of this conflict cannot be underestimated since this is when Native Americans began to actually lose their positions. At the Little Bighorn, despite the brilliant victory, Indian tribes, in truth, lost since after this battle the attempt to “calm” the Native Americans doubled. As a result, the Indian land was taken by Americans, which gave a final push to their assimilation into a new society.

The end of the nineteenth century was rich in key events for the Native American history. They were defeated as a nation not only on the battlefield, but legally as well. Indian tribes were not considered any more as a separate nation in accordance with “Future treaties with Indian Tribes” document. However, the relationships between the two nations were not shaped. Curtis Act of 1898 was a legal document that regulated the relationship between two nations, simultaneously thrusting the social and cultural rules on the “civilized” tribes (Carselowey, 1937). The very recognition of the civilized part is a proof that the U.S. authorities already changed the Indian society for it to become similar to that of theirs. The Curtis Act destroyed the existing social structure of the tribes by eliminating its courts, establishing American legal system and placing Indians into reservations (Carselowey, 1937). The advantage of this is that the Indians were left alone, i.e. they finally obtained their territory, despite the fact that it was much smaller than before. On the other hand, the Curtis Act made Indians a closed community on the territory of the United States. Although the separation was an opportunity to save the Native Americans’ cultural heritage, the establishment of “civilized” social structure became a final step in the integration of Indians into the system.

Further development of the Native Americans as a part of the American society can be called a “melting pot” period. Two cultures were integrating into one another, acquiring the characteristic features of each other. In fact, the “melting pot” period is a period of cultural exchange between Indians and Americans. However, this exchange was the primary one-sided: from Americans to Indians. Indians were still pressed and discriminated. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was even a danger for them to be dislodged from the reservations (Wilkinson & Biggs, 1977).  The tension grew and in the 1940-1950s, the integration (termination) policy was established. The existing condition of the Indians in the federal system was not appropriate anymore. The termination policy was a result of 150 years of conflicts between Americans and Indians (Wilkinson & Biggs, 1977). It can be said that termination began as early as in 1830, and in the second half of the twentieth century, the politics were supposed to end these conflicts by complete elimination of the Indian nation.

The purpose of the policy was to guaranty the basic civil rights to Indians in order to deprive them of their special positions in the legal system. The American authorities considered the special status of Indians as “separatism”, and thus, wanted to integrate the nation into a democratic and multicultural society. The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 provided a guaranty of the Bill of Rights to the Indians. However, not all rights were established (Burnett, 1971). In the light of termination policy, the Act adoption was an obvious and quite successful measure to assimilate the Indian ethnicity.

As it can be seen, in the 1960-1970s the situation has changed. Observing how their culture “melts” more and more every day, Indians decided to take steps towards multiculturalism, i.e. towards the provision of basic rights and freedoms for a cultural minority on the territory of the United States. The Declaration of Indian Purpose of 1961 became an attempt to identify Native Americans in the U.S. society as a separate, and thus, free nation, which deserves to have the right to self-recognition. The Declaration states: “We, the Indian People, must be governed by principles in a democratic manner with a right to choose our way of life” (“Declaration of Indian Purpose”, 1961). Therefore, by acknowledging this document, Native Americans wanted to show that they disagree with being assimilated and integrated. It can be also seen that Indians supported the idea of a multicultural society, but at the same time considered that every nation should have its basic right to save the cultural heritage.

In conclusion, the present position of Native Americans in the federal system and American society is the result of more than 200 years of conflicts and political confrontation. Nowadays, despite the fact that Indians saved their cultural heritage, and their traditions are still remembered and respected, their ethnicity is assimilated into American society. Without a doubt, the listed above events only accelerated the integration process.