The US-Indian Assimilation Policy was a final attempt by "Americans" to lay indigenous culture to rest -- and it had disastrous effects.
What happens when years of working to eradicate of a group of people is unsuccessful? You assimilate them forcibly, which is what happened to Native Americans between 1790 and 1920. The U.S. government’s assimilation policies attempted to “Americanize” natives through control of their schooling, religion and customs, with a focus on immersion in Euro-American tradition. These policies caused cultural distress and also violated the Constitution.
The nation’s first president, George Washington, officially promoted civilization policies. He promulgated a six-step system for assimilation, which included impartial justice towards the Native Americans, regulation of their land, promotion of commerce and punishment for those who violated their rights. Sale of native land had to be approved by the United States under the Indian Intercourse Act, and Natives were only occupants of the land, not owners.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created in 1824 within the War Department. The bureau, still in existence today, was tasked with management of Indian lands, establishing relations with the Indians and providing social services.
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which supported the removal of Native American people living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river. This act did not force them to leave, but it did give the president the right to negotiate land exchange treaties with tribes in the United States.
One of the worst deals was the Treaty of Echota, signed by only a handful of Cherokees, but not any tribal elders, that ceded Cherokee native lands to the government. Georgia would later take action against the tribe for failure to follow through with the treaty and forcibly remove them from their land, leading to the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee, along with other tribes like the Seminoles, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Muscogees, were relocated to unfamiliar and infertile territory with little knowledge of how to survive.
When Ulysses S. Grant took the office of president in 1868, he admonished the BIA’s ineffectiveness at establishing US-Indian relations, and opted for a complete overhaul of the organization. Instead, Grant put in place Christian missionaries to supervise it.
These individuals worked with the Secretary of the Interior to monitor congressional appropriations and make sure that the indigenous would be relocated to reservations and away from immigrants, converted to Christianity, assume the duties and responsibilities of citizenship and receive high-quality supplies for their reservations. However, the peace policy did not fully apply to tribes that supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.