The Dawes Act
The General Allotment Act of 1887 ((Dawes Act or Dawes Severalty Act), Ch. 119, Laws 1887, 24 Stat. 388, 25 U.S.C. (2000)) authorized the President of the United States to survey Native American tribal land and divide the area into allotments for the individual Native American. It was enacted February 8, 1887, and named for its sponsor, U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts. The Act was amended in 1891 and again in 1906, by the Burke Act. (Pub. L. 106–462, title I,(a), Nov. 7, 2000, 114 Stat. 2007) The act remained in effect until 1934.
Encompassing sweeping changes, the Act is now generally viewed as having had disastrous effects for the tribes it aimed to help. The Dawes Commission, set up under a Native American Office appropriation bill in 1893, was created, not to administer the Dawes Act, but to attempt to persuade the tribes not covered by the Act to agree to the allotment plan established under the Dawes Act. It was this commission that registered the members of the Five Civilized Tribes and many Native American names appear on the rolls.
The General Allotment Act did not apply to Alaska Natives; however, the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906 included provisions under which individual Alaska Natives could acquire title to land in a similar manner.
Supporting the dissolution of the Native American reservations were various humanitarian organizations (Indian Rights Association, Indian Protection Committee, Friends of the Indians, etc.) and several well-known Native American speakers, Sarah Winnemucca and Zitkala Sa among them. They believed that the reservation system was wrong and that Native Americans interred under it would never be self-sufficient. Against the Act were the meat-packing industry, the huge ranching associations leasing the Native American land and the Five Civilized Tribes — all well-funded and having great influence in Washington.
American policy toward Native Americans has always had tension between attempts to assimilate and attempts to remove. The Dawes Act, in some ways, represents both desires.
Summary of sections
• Section One authorizes the President to survey Native American tribal land and divide the arable area into allotments for the individual Native American. It says that the head of any household will receive 160 acres and each single individual above the age of 18 and each orphan will receive 80 acres and each minor will receive 40 acres.
• Section Two states that each Native American will choose his or her own allotment and the family will choose for each minor child. The Native American agent will choose for orphan children.
• Section Three requires the Native American agent to certify each allotment and provide two copies of the certification to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs one to be kept in the Indian Office and the other to be transmitted to the (United States Department of the Interior/Secretary of the Interior) for his action, and to be sent to the (General Land Office).
• Section Four provides that Native Americans not residing on their reservation and Native Americans without reservations will receive the equal allotment.
• Section Five provides that the Secretary of the Interior will hold the allotments "in trust" for 25 years. At that time, the title will belong to the allotment holder or heirs. It also allows the Secretary to negotiate under existing treaties for the land not allotted to be purchased on "terms and conditions as shall be considered just and equitable between the United States and said tribe of Indians."
• Section Six states that upon completion of the Land Patent process, the allotment holder will become a United States citizen and "be entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens".
• Section Seven addresses water rights on irrigated land.
• Section Eight exempts the Five Civilized Tribes and several others from the act.
• Section Nine-appropriates the funds to carry out the act.
• Section Ten asserts the (Eminent domain/Power of Eminent Domain) of the Congress over the allotments.
• Section Eleven contains a provision for the Southern Ute Native Americans.
The practical results of the Act were disastrous for Native Americans. The acreage granted to most allottees was not sufficient for economic viability, and division of land between heirs upon allottees' deaths resulted in land fractionalization. Most allotment land, which could be sold after a statutory period of 25 years, was eventually sold to non-Native buyers at bargain prices. Additionally, land deemed to be "surplus" beyond what was needed for allotment was opened to white settlers. Over the 47 years of the Act's life, about 90 million acres of treaty land — about two-thirds of the 1887 land base — was lost to Native Americans, and about 90,000 Indians were made landless.
The Dawes Act, with its emphasis on individual land ownership, also had a negative impact on the unity, self-government, and culture of Indian tribes.
By breaking up reservation lands into privately-owned parcels, legislators hoped to complete the assimilation process by forcing the deterioration of the communal life-style of the Native societies and imposing Western-oriented values of strengthening the nuclear family and values of economic dependency strictly within this small household unit. Legislators' opinions of communal living saw the extended family as "needy" since indigenous ideas of wealth contrasted and disagreed with Western ideas of wealth.
The kin-network, which was the base of economic and social reproduction in Indigenous societies, split and the reservation became a checkerboard pattern. Each "head of the family," which, in contrast to most indigenous traditional structures, became the male, received a 160-acre allotment and each single person over 18 and every orphan received an 80-acre allotment. The United States government opened the surplus land to non-Native American settlement, creating the checkerboard pattern.The allotment policy abolished Native society leaving Native people as simply Americans, and impoverished Americans at that.
The Act forced Native people onto small tracts of land distant from their kin relations. Traditionally, in most indigenous societies, women were the agriculturists while the men were the hunters and warriors. The allotment policy depleted the land base, ending hunting as a means of subsistence. According to Victorian ideals, the men were forced into the fields to take on the woman's role and the women were domesticated. This Act imposed a patrilineal nuclear household onto many traditional matrilineal Native societies. Native gender roles and relations quickly changed with this policy since communal living shaped the social order of Native communities. Women were no longer the caretakers of the land and they were no longer valued in the public political sphere. Even in the home, the Native woman was dependent on her husband. Before allotment, women divorced easily and had important political and social status for they were usually the center of their kin network. With this act, women were deprived title to land and the distribution of allotments proved this point. To receive the full 160 acres, women had to be married and even then, her husband received title to the land.
In 1926, Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work commissioned a study of federal administration of Indian policy and the condition of Indian people. Completed in 1928, The Problem of Indian Administration — commonly known as the Meriam Report after the study's director, Lewis Meriam — documented fraud and misappropriation by government agents. In particular, the Meriam Report found that the General Allotment Act had been used to illegally deprive Native Americans of their land rights. After considerable debate, Congress terminated the allotment process under the Dawes Act by enacting the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 ("Wheeler-Howard Act"). (However, the allotment process in Alaska under the separate Alaska Native Allotment Act continued until its revocation in 1971 by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.)
Despite termination of the allotment process in 1934, effects of the General Allotment Act continue into the present. For example, one provision of the Act was the establishment of a trust fund, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to collect and distribute revenues from oil, mineral, timber, and grazing leases on Native American lands. The BIA's alleged improper management of the trust fund resulted in litigation, in particular the ongoing case Cobell v. Kempthorne, to force a proper accounting of revenues.
Contemporary Interpretations of the Dawes Act.
Ward Churchill has argued that the Act "imposed a formal eugenics code," by setting a "blood quantum" requirement for tribal citizenship. John LaVelle of the University of New Mexico contends that Churchill's interpretation is "sorely lacking in historical/factual veracity and scholarly integrity." Lavelle contends that the Act contains no blood quantum requirement, and that such requirements were adopted voluntarily by tribes, and not imposed by the US government. LaVelle asserts that "[t]he main flaw of this federal/tribal conspiracy theory is that it rests on — and propagates — demonstrably false information concerning the contents and impact of the General Allotment Act." Other scholars have relied in their work on Churchill's assertion that the General Allotment Act contained a blood quantum requirement.
The Dawes Rolls (or Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, or Dawes Commission of Final Rolls) were created by the Dawes Commission. The Commission, authorized by United States Congress in 1893, was required to negotiate with the Five Civilized Tribes to convince them to agree to an allotment plan and dissolution of the reservation system. One of the consequences was the creation of rolls of the members of the five tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole). The rolls were needed to assign the allotments and to provide an equitable division of all monies obtained. These rolls became known as the Dawes Rolls. The Dawes Commission was quickly flooded by applicants from all over the country trying to get on the rolls.
The Commission went to the individual tribes to obtain the membership lists but the first attempts were inadequate. Finally Congress passed the Curtis Act in 1898 which had a provision that a new roll would be taken and supersede all previous rolls.
Tribal citizens were enrolled under several categories:
• Citizen by Blood
. New Born Citizen by Blood
. Minor Citizens by Blood
• Citizen by Marriage
• Freedmen (former black slaves of Indians)
. New Born Freedmen
. Minor Freedmen
• Delaware Indians (those adopted by the Cherokee tribe were enrolled as a separate group within the Cherokee)
More that 250,000 people applied for membership, and the Dawes Commission enrolled just over 100,000. An act of Congress on April 26, 1906, closed the rolls on March 5, 1907. An additional 312 persons were enrolled under an act approved August 1, 1914.
The rolls are, for the most part, considered complete. Some Indians did not apply because of their displeasure with the allotment process and others applied but were rejected because of the residency requirements. Generally, though, to prove membership in any of the Five Civilized Tribes you must prove descent from a person listed as a citizen on the final rolls.
Courts have upheld this rule even when it has been proven that a brother or sister of an ancestor was listed on the rolls but not the direct ancestor himself/herself.
The Rolls remain important today as several tribes use descent from Dawes Roll members as a requirement for tribal membership and the federal government uses them in determining status for Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood.