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    The Dawes Act (Dawes Severalty Act) (article)

    The 1887 law intended to assimilate Native Americans led to the loss of millions of acres of land.

    The American West

    The Dawes Act

    The 1887 law intended to assimilate Native Americans led to the loss of millions of acres of land.

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    The Dawes Act of 1887 authorized the federal government to break up tribal lands by partitioning them into individual plots. Only those Native Americans who accepted the individual allotments were allowed to become US citizens.

    The objective of the Dawes Act was to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream US society by annihilating their cultural and social traditions.

    As a result of the Dawes Act, over ninety million acres of tribal land were stripped from Native Americans and sold to non-natives.

    Background to the “Indian problem”

    Although violent conflict had plagued relations between white settlers and Native Americans from the very beginning of European colonization of the New world, such violence increased in the mid-nineteenth century as American settlers moved ever further west across the continent. Most white Americans believed they could not live in peace with Native Americans, whom they regarded as “primitive.”

    As a result of this widespread belief, the US government created the reservation system in 1851 keep Native Americans off of lands that European-Americans wished to settle. Many indigenous people resisted their confinement to the reservations, resulting in a series of conflicts between Native Americans and the US Army known as the Indian Wars. Ultimately, the US Army subdued Native Americans and forced them onto reservations, where they were allowed to govern themselves and maintain some of their traditions and culture.

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    But as white Americans pushed ever westward, they came into conflict with Native Americans on their tribal lands. Many of these white settlers viewed the continued practice of native traditions as barbaric and intolerable. They believed that assimilation (being completely absorbed) into mainstream white American society was the only acceptable fate for Native Americans. This belief was often couched in religious terms; many white Christians argued that only by abandoning their spiritual traditions and accepting Christian dogma could Native Americans be “saved” from the fires of hell.

    In the late nineteenth century, a political consensus formed around these ideas, and the result was the 1887 passage of the Dawes Act.

    Provisions and effects of the Dawes Act

    The Dawes Act of 1887, sometimes referred to as the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 or the General Allotment Act, was signed into law on January 8, 1887, by US President Grover Cleveland. The act authorized the president to confiscate and redistribute tribal lands in the American West. It explicitly sought to destroy the social cohesion of Indian tribes and to thereby eliminate the remaining vestiges of Indian culture and society. Only by disavowing their own traditions, it was believed, could the Indians ever become truly “American.”

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    [Read an excerpt from the Dawes Act]

    As a result of the Dawes Act, tribal lands were parceled out into individual plots. Only those Native Americans who accepted the individual plots of land were allowed to become US citizens. The remainder of the land was then sold off to white settlers.

    Poster advertising "Indian Land for Sale" with a photograph of a Native American man wearing a war bonnet.

    Advertisement for the sale of Native American land. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

    Amendments to the Dawes Act

    Initially, the Dawes Act did not apply to the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole). They had already adopted many elements of American society and culture, which is why they were characterized as “civilized.” Moreover, they were protected by treaties that had guaranteed that their tribal lands would remain free of white settlers. However, after they had proven unwilling to voluntarily accept individual allotments of land, the Curtis Act of 1898 amended the Dawes Act to apply to the Five Civilized Tribes as well. Their tribal governments were obliterated, their tribal courts were destroyed, and over ninety million acres of their tribal lands were sold off to white Americans.

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    During the Great Depression, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the US Indian Reorganization Act, which authorized a “New Deal” for Native American Indians, allowing them to organize and form their own tribal governments, and ending the land allotments created by Dawes Act.

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    What do you think?

    Why do you think white Americans viewed Native Americans as such a threat?

    Do you think the Dawes Act was intended to help or harm Native Americans?

    What was the effect of the Dawes Act on Native American cultural beliefs and traditions?

    What do you see as the primary difference between Native American and European American conceptions of land and ownership?

    [Notes and attributions]

    Source : www.khanacademy.org

    The Dawes Act (U.S. National Park Service)

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    The Dawes Act

    Badlands National Park


    What was the Dawes Act?

    The Dawes Act (sometimes called the Dawes Severalty Act or General Allotment Act), passed in 1887 under President Grover Cleveland, allowed the federal government to break up tribal lands. The federal government aimed to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream US society by encouraging them towards farming and agriculture, which meant dividing tribal lands into individual plots. Only the Native Americans who accepted the division of tribal lands were allowed to become US citizens. This ended in the government stripping over 90 million acres of tribal land from Native Americans, then selling that land to non-native US citizens.

    In the Badlands area, members of the Oglala Lakota tribe had to contend with the Dawes Act -- how could they advocate for their rightful land? How could they fight the pressure to assimilate?

    NPS Photo

    How did the Dawes Act affect Native Americans?

    If they accepted the allotment divisions, the Dawes Act designated 160 acres of farmland or 320 acres of grazing land to the head of each Native American family. These acreages were comparable to those promised by the Homestead Act, but there were important differences between the two acts. Tribes already controlled the land that was being returned to them at a fraction of the acreage, Native Americans were not accustomed to a life of standardized ranching and agriculture, and the lands allotted to them were often unsuitable for farming.

    In order to receive their allotment, Native Americans were required to enroll with the Office of Indian Affairs, now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). By enrolling, the individual registered themselves with the office and their name went on the “Dawes rolls,” which assisted government agencies in determining whether or not that individual was eligible to receive their allotment.

    Although Native Americans controlled about 150 million acres of land before the Dawes Act, they lost the majority of it due to these allotment divisions and selling of surplus. When tribes were paid for their land, they were underpaid. In addition to scant payment, Native Americans were not used to spending money and quickly spent most of what they received. Many were left with little land and little money. Inheritance also became an issue for many Native Americans who enrolled to receive land from the Dawes Act. When young children received allotments, some did not know how to farm because they had spent their youth in boarding schools. When there were multiple inheritors, the size of the plots was too small to divide among children and still be suitable for farming.

    The Homestead Acts encouraged Westward expansion. The more people homesteading in the Midwest, the greater pressure for Native Americans to assimilate.

    NPS Photo

    What is assimilation?

    Assimilation was a major goal of Native American policies in the late 19th century. Assimilation is the process of taking individuals or social groups and absorbing them into mainstream culture.

    After families claimed their allotments, any remaining tribal lands were declared “surplus” land. These lands were then sold off to non-native settlers. Additional legislation like the Homestead Acts further encouraged white settlement of the West, and with that settlement came calls for assimilation. Many settlers viewed native practices as barbaric and primitive, seeing assimilation as the only option for coexistence.

    The US government employed a variety of methods in the attempt to assimilate Native Americans, including the Dawes Act. The desired effect of the Dawes Act was to get Native Americans to farm and ranch like white homesteaders. An explicit goal of the Dawes Act was to create divisions among Native Americans and eliminate the social cohesion of tribes.

    Part of a series of articles titled History & Culture in the Badlands.

    Previous: Homesteading in the Badlands

    Next: Badlands Aerial Gunnery Range


    Series: History & Culture in the Badlands


    Archaeology: Ancient People of the Badlands


    Source : www.nps.gov

    The impact of the Transcontinental Railroad on Native Americans

    The Transcontinental Railroad was celebrated by some as a symbol of modernity. However, the railroad also threatened Native nations. Discover their stories.

    The impact of the Transcontinental Railroad on Native Americans

    By Sam Vong, June 3, 2019

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    The Transcontinental Railroad was completed 150 years ago, in 1869. In 1800s America, some saw the railroad as a symbol of modernity and national progress. For others, however, the Transcontinental Railroad undermined the sovereignty of Native nations and threatened to destroy Indigenous communities and their cultures as the railroad expanded into territories inhabited by Native Americans.

    I asked Dr. Manu Karuka, American Studies scholar and author of Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad, about the impact of the railroad on Indigenous peoples and nations.

    A Native American man looking at the Central Pacific Railroad, about 1869. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

    Traditional histories of the Transcontinental Railroad often exclude Native Americans. How does including Indigenous peoples and nations transform these familiar narratives?

    Indigenous people are often present in railroad histories, but they form a kind of colorful backdrop that establishes the scene. Rarely, if ever, do we get an understanding of the interests that drove Indigenous peoples’ actions in relation to the railroad. Rather than analyzing Indigenous peoples’ commitments to their communities and their homelands, railroad histories have emphasized market competition and westward expansion. Focusing on Indigenous histories reveals how Indigenous nations have survived colonialism.

    “Indigenous people are often present in railroad histories, but they form a kind of colorful backdrop,” explains Karuka. That is literally the case in this illustration of the Transcontinental Railroad created for a souvenir booklet. Courtesy of Archives Center, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.

    Your new book reinterprets the building of the railroad as a colonial project. Your book also challenges readers to consider the Transcontinental Railroad as a form of “continental imperialism.” Colonialism and imperialism are two very distinct processes. How are they different, and how are they related in your analysis of the Transcontinental Railroad?

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines colonialism as “colonization by settlement.” In the case of the U.S., Canada, and other settler colonies, colonialism is a process that replaces existing, Indigenous communities and ways of relating to the land with settler populations, and settler ways of life.

    The Transcontinental Railroad facilitated the colonization of western territories by encouraging new settlements on Indigenous lands.

    This colonization was an extension of what I call “continental imperialism.” I draw from the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Vladimir Lenin to understand imperialism as a process through which finance capital becomes ascendant over industrial capital. This results in the increasing concentration of wealth under fewer hands, through corporate trusts and mergers. Du Bois and Lenin argued that the hyper-concentration of wealth led to the territorial division of the world. Railroads were a core infrastructure of imperialism in North America, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

    What roles did Native Americans play during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad?

    It is important to distinguish between different nations and their relationships to the railroad. The railroad did not impact Native peoples in a uniform manner.

    Lakotas, for example, had developed a way of life organized around the expansiveness of the Plains and of the life on it, especially the massive buffalo herds. As the Lakota writer and political leader Luther Standing Bear described it, Lakota people moved through their land, following buffalo herds. “Moving day was just like traveling from one nice home to another.” When the Union Pacific Railroad was being built, Lakota expansiveness confronted the expansionist drive of the United States. This represented two distinct and competing ways of living in relationship to the land and the living beings on it.

    Sioux drawing of a bison, 1898. The Transcontinental Railroad dramatically altered ecosystems. For instance, it brought thousands of hunters who killed the bison Native people relied on.

    The Cheyenne experience was different. The railroad disrupted intertribal trade on the Plains, and thereby broke a core aspect of Cheyenne economic life. Cheyennes responded to this crisis by developing annuity economies, based around regular payments by the U.S. federal government, as stipulated in treaties, and raiding economies. This signaled a long-term strategic shift within Cheyenne communities.

    Other Indigenous peoples found themselves drawn into a closer relationship with railroad construction. For instance, some Pawnee men worked as scouts for the U.S. Army, defending railroad construction parties. Their work provided an avenue to wage labor, shaped in a historical context of the imposition of commercial farming and boarding schools on Pawnees. Both of these impositions sought to replace Pawnee women’s agricultural and pedagogical work and relationships.

    Source : americanhistory.si.edu

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