Many white reformers believed that Native Americans should assimilate into white culture by giving up their own cultures and traditions. This goal was largely accomplished by the forced removal of Native American children from their homes.
White reformers disagreed with earlier U.S. government policies regarding Native Americans. Before the Civil War, most government policy supported either killing Native Americans or forcing them onto isolated reservations. Even though reformers believed Native Americans were savage and uncivilized, they thought these choices were too harsh, so they pushed for what they thought was a kinder plan focusing on assimilation. Reformers believed that forcing Native Americans to give up their cultures, traditions and religious beliefs would allow them to become civilized and live happier lives.
Although Native Americans resisted these measures, economic incentives coerced some of them. The U.S. government gave individual families land to farm if they gave up their traditional lifestyles. Since the reservations granted to Native Americans were often unsuitable for farming, some families agreed out of desperation. The U.S. government also removed Native American children from their homes for little or no reason. These children were sometimes adopted by white families but were often sent to boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their native languages or practicing their religions.
These policies did not officially change until 1932.