Dawes Severalty Act (1887)
In the past century, with the end of the warfare between the United
States and Indian tribes and nations, the United States of America
continued its efforts to acquire more land for the Indians. About this
time the government and the 'Indian reformers' tried to turn Indians
into Americans. A major aspect of this plan was the General Allotment
or Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 which ended in 1934. The long term
effects of the program were not as helpful as many had planned it to
be, and in fact the effects of poverty as a result of this government
interference can still be felt by the tribes today.
The Dawes Severalty Act was passed by the U.S. Congress to provide for
the granting of landholdings (allotments, usually 160 acres) to
individual Native Americans, replacing communal tribal holdings.
Sponsored by U.S. Senator H. L. Dawes , the aim of the act was to
absorb tribe members into the larger national society. Allotments
could be sold after a statutory period (25 years), and “surplus” land
not allotted was opened to settlers. Within decades following the
passage of the act the vast majority of what had been tribal land in
the West was in white hands. The act also established a trust fund to
collect and distribute proceeds from oil, mineral, timber, and grazing
leases on Native American lands. The failure of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs to manage this trust fund properly led to legislation and
lawsuits in the 1990s and early 2000s to force the government to
properly account for the revenues collected.
The aim of the act was to encourage American Indians to take up
agriculture and adopt 'the habits of civilized life' and ultimately
for them to be fully assimilated into US society. With the grant of
land they also received US citizenship. The law broke up reservations
and encouraged private farms. Native Americans families received
individual plots of land, carved from reservations, as well as farm
equipment. These families were to give up their communal way of life
on the reservations and become independent farmers. But few Native
Americans profited from the Dawes Act; the greatest beneficiaries were
land speculators, who under the law were able to buy the best pieces
of reservation land.
The Dawes Severalty Act was an act to provide for the allotment of
lands in severalty to Indians on the various reservations, and to
extend the protection of the laws of the United States and the
Territories over the Indians, and for other purposes.
The bitter irony of this new act was that those who developed it
believed they were acting in the best interests of Native Americans.
Many of America’s leading religious leaders and progressive reformers
helped lead this assault to “kill the Indian, but save the man.”
Senator Henry Dawes sincerely believed that...