- The Reservation policies and the Dawes Act were intended to remove Native Indians from their lands to allow for white settlers occupation.
- Franklin Roosevelt administration through the Indian Reorganization Act ended the allotment policy
The Indian Problem
In the late 1840s, the swelling US population in the eastern side of the Indian Territories resulted in numerous conflicts between the Natives and the white settlers. William Medill proposed the creation of reservations, set aside exclusively for the Natives, similar to the style in the Native settlement areas, in which the Natives would be contained, and Congress approved the Indian Appropriations Act in 1851 that created the first reservations in Oklahoma Territory.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the Natives put up a robust resistance to the reservation policies called the Indian Wars until they finally negotiated treaties and their settlement in reservation areas.
At first, the Reservation systems allowed each tribe to exercise their sovereignty over their land for the protection of their territories and were allowed to use a limited degree of self-governance. The Senate only intervened in the treaty formulation process during which they ratified treaties entered into by the Natives and the federal government.
However, through a successive of court decisions and Senate actions, Natives were forced in the 1880s to renounce their tribal governments, laws and traditions which were regarded as uncivilised for a lifestyle similar to the white settlers.
On February 8 1887, President Grover Cleveland assented to the Dawes Allotment Act.
The Dawes Act of 1887
The Dawes Act also called the General Allotment Act authorised the President of the United States to survey tribal land belonging to the Native Americans, divide and allot smaller portions of it to individuals. Those who accepted the allocations and lived distinctly from the tribes were also to be granted US citizenship.
The Act provided that a head of family would be allotted 160 acres of land, a single person or orphan over 18, 80 acres and single persons below 18 years of age 40 acres each. The US governments would hold in trust the allotments for 25 years. Eligible Native Americans had four years to identify land voluntarily, after which, the Secretary of Interior would forcefully allot land.
The Act provided that persons agreeing to the allotment terms were subject to the state and federal laws. However, the Act did not apply to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Miami, and Peoria in Indian Territory. The Osage, Sac, and Fox, in the Oklahoma Territory. Reservations occupied by Seneca Nation of New York, the territory in the State of Nebraska adjacent to the Sioux Nation. Later, the law applied to the Wea, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Piankeshaw, and Western Miami tribes by an Act of 1889.
The Act was named after its creator Senator Henry Laurens Dawes of Massachusetts to abolish tribal and communal land ownership among the Natives. The objective for this was to free up more land for white settlers and further encourage the assimilation of Native Indians into the general white American society and lift them out of poverty. “Excess” territory after the allotment, was to be sold to the white settlers. Individual ownership and subsistence farming was according to the Euro-American model as progressive and favourable as opposed to the communal land ownership and governance systems of the Natives.
The Act was amended in 1891, in 1891 by the Curtis Act and 1908 by the Burke Act.
Dawes Act 1891 Amendments
This amendment provided for a pro-rata distribution in instances where the reservation was not large enough to allow for individual allotment of land according to the sizes provided in the parent Act. It also provided for a double allocation of land for land that is suitable for grazing only and established a criterion for inheritance.
The Curtis Act
The Curtis Act (1898) was an amendment to the Dawes Act to provide its applications to the Five Civilized Tribes. The Native tribes, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole, were considered to be civilised because of their elaborate ruling systems. There was established a Dawes Commission under the Indian appropriation bill in 1893, to convince the Five Civilized Tribes to agree to the allotment terms. The commission registered the tribes and the members of the tribes in the Dawes Rolls.
The Burke Act
The amendment touched on the sections of the Dawes Act concerning citizenship and mechanisms for issuing allotments. Citizenship was acquired unconditionally upon acceptance of allotted land, and the Secretary of Interior could force Natives to accept title to allotted land. Further, the allotted land was de-classified as held under trust by the government and could be taxed.
The law and amendments required dissolution of tribal governments including courts, allotment of communal land to individuals registered as belonging to the tribe, sale of surplus land to white settlers. Over 90 million acres of land was sold to non-Natives. Criminal and speculators took advantage of the Natives unfamiliarity on the state and federal land ownership laws.
Natives were given land too small for profitable farming, and there was a significant breakdown of tribal social structures and erosion of heritage. Franklin Roosevelt administration through the Indian Reorganization Act ended the allotment policy and introduced the “New Deal” renewing the Native rights to communal ownership and self-government.