The arrival of European settlers created a fight for survival for the original inhabitants of what we now refer to as the United States. Greed and a feeling of superiority lead European settlers to believe that they had the right to take over any area of the new world and their way of life was better than the Indians that were already living there. This ideology led to decades of fighting between the European settlers and the American Indians. Several treaties were created by the government in an attempt to end the wars and find a peaceful way for everyone to coexists in the new world. This paper describes one of those treaties and its impact on the Native American culture. Several Americans believed that if Native Americans adopted the ways of Europeans settlers it would mean an end to the wars and peace treaties between the two cultures. This lead to the creation of an act that would give Native Americans land that they could farm on and demolish the need of reservations for various tribes. The act was called the the Dawes Act and was established in February 8, 1887. Named after its creator Senator Henry Dawes, the Dawes Act “also known as the General Allotment Act allowed for the President to break up reservation land, which was held in common by the members of a tribe, into small allotments to be parceled out to individuals.” (“Dawes Act (1887)”, n.d.)
The wars among Europeans and American Indians also resulting in extinction of many tribes as well as caused the government to recognize five tribes as civilized. These tribes were known as the Five Civilized Tribes and consisted of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians. The tribes were considered civilized because they agreed to abide by federal laws instead of the tribal laws they were accustomed to. This agreement allowed them to participate in the Dawes Act. Once registered and approved, Native Americans became part of the Five Civilized Tribes, also known as the Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes and placed on a list known as Dawes rolls. Rolls registration was from 1898 to 1906 and included “the individual’s name, age, sex, blood degree, census card number and page, enrollment number, and tribe.” (“Dawes Final Rolls | OHS Research Center”, n.d.) Originally only members of the Five Civilized Tribes were allowed to participate in the Dawes Allotment Act, however after careful consideration tribes from New York, Nebraska, Osage, Miamies and Peorias, Sacs, and Foxes were also allowed seek approval for land given through the act.
The amount of land you received depended on your status in family or age. A quarter section of land was given to each head of the family. Single parents and children under the age of eighteen were given an eighth section of land. A sixteenth section of land was given to living single parents under the age of eighteen or “ or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation.” (“Dawes Act (1887)”, n.d.) Although the Dawes Act is no longer in existence, Native Americans can still search for information about their ancestral ties to the act on the Oklahoma Historical Society website as long as you know the name of the person and when they enrolled in the Dawes Act.
“The purpose of the Dawes Act and the subsequent acts that extended its initial provisions was purportedly to protect Indian property rights, particularly during the land rushes of the 1890s, but in many instances the results were vastly different.” (“Dawes Act (1887)”, n.d.) Most of the land given to the Indians could not be farmed because they were in the dessert. Indians did not know much about farming and were not trained for it, resulting in many of their efforts being successful. “ Many Indians did not want to take up agriculture, and those who did want to farm could not afford the tools, animals, seed, and other supplies necessary to get started.” (“Dawes Act (1887)”, n.d.) Those that tried to by the needed materials had a hard time getting credit, however grants were provided by the government. Unfortunately, “the grants were far too small and inconsistent to aid American Indians significantly in converting to sedentary living and farming. Those American Indians who tried to mimic American homesteaders therefore usually reaped small, unprofitable harvests and quickly abandoned their efforts.” (Gerardo, n.d.) Over the years some tribes such as the Oneida tried to take out loans to help them keep up wit the cost but were confused by the English language and the terms of the loan causing them to lose their land and homes. Taxes were another factor Native Americans were not use to and some were mislead to believe was not something they had to pay, which also resulted in them losing their homes. Another problem with the Dawes Act included the inheritance of lands given to the Indians. Native American children sent to boarding schools were not able to farm the land and if their were more than one heir to the land, once divided it was too small to farm.
Although well intentioned, the Dawes Act was not as successful as hoped. It was intended to help European and Native Americans live peacefully with each other. However unsuitable soil, no knowledge of agriculture or farming, costs, and language barriers caused many Native Americans to give up or lose their homes in the process. Learning about the Dawes Act teaches us to carefully consider how laws can effect cultures and ways of incorporating measures that will successfully help cultures adapt to changes.
- Dawes Act (1887). (n.d.). Retrieved 12 April 2015, from http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true
- Dawes Final Rolls | OHS Research Center. (n.d.). Retrieved 12 April 2015, from http://www.okhistory.org/research/dawes
- Gerardo, G. M. (n.d.). Dawes Severalty Act – Impact. Retrieved 12 April 2015, from http://www.milestonedocuments.com/documents/view/dawes-severalty-act/impact
- Kelly, K. C. (2010, October 25). Maps of Indian Territory, the Dawes Act, and Will Rogers’ Enrollment Case File. Retrieved 12 April 2015, from http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/fed-indian-policy/
- Oneida Nation:: Cultural Heritage — O. Allotment – Dawes Act 1887-1891. (n.d.). Retrieved 12 April 2015, from http://www.oneidanation.org/culture/page.aspx?id=2486