Study Guide

The Dawes Act of 1887 Quotes

By Henry Laurens Dawes / The Forty-Ninth Congress of the United States of America

  • Identity

    An Act to provide for the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on the various reservations […] (1.2).

    In severalty. That's the key phrase here. Up until the Dawes Act, the Native Americans who were already forced to live on reservations had continued to live like they always had, just somewhere else. But by allotting land to individuals, and then legally forcing them to farm it for themselves – separately – the Act was erasing one of the foundations of the traditional Native American lifestyle.

    […] to extend the protection of the laws of the United States and the Territories over the Indians […] (1.2).

    Here's the second whammy in that opening statement. Not only were we going to change the way they make their living, we were also going to make them American citizens. No more tribal law, and for their own "protection." Did they want to be citizens? Who cares?

    That upon the approval of the allotments provided for in this act by the Secretary of the Interior, he shall cause patents to issue therefor in the name of the allottees, […] and declare that the United States does and will hold the land thus allotted, for the period of twenty-five years, in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian to whom such allotment shall have been made […] (5.1).

    We put the italics in there, because that phrase is pretty important. As we've mentioned, Native Americans were "communists." They had traditionally operated with what's best for the group, not individuals. So allotting land and then holding it in trust to make sure that they were following the rules (farming only for oneself) was pretty sneaky.

    […] each and every member of the respective bands or tribes of Indians to whom allotments have been made shall have the benefit of and be subject to the laws, both civil and criminal, of the State or Territory in which they may reside; (6.1)

    One thing that works to form your identity is the culture in which you're raised. The rule of law is a huge part of your culture. So, once again, this part of the act was written to break the bond between Native Americans and their tribal laws.

    And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens, whether said Indian has been or not, by birth or otherwise, a member of any tribe of Indians within the territorial limits of the United States without in any manner affecting the right of any such Indian to tribal or other property. (6.2)

    The words "adopted the habits of civilized life" tells you all you have to know about the Dawes Act.

  • Power

    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 (1.2). (Emphasis ours)

    There is power in ambiguity. By including "and for other purposes," the legislators could've written just about anything into the Dawes Act and made it law.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in all cases where any tribe or band of Indians has been, or shall hereafter be, located upon any reservation created for their use, either by treaty stipulation or by virtue of an act of Congress of executive order setting apart the same for their use, the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized, […] (1.3)

    See, it's not even important that we include what the President is authorized to do. The whole gist of this statement is about how the Senate, House, and President hold all the cards.

    That the allotments provided for in this act shall be made by special agents appointed by the President for such purpose, and the agents in charge of the respective reservations on which the allotments are directed to be made, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Interior may from time to time prescribe, and shall be certified by such agents to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs […]. (3.1)

    No question who's in charge here.

    […] each and every member of the respective bands or tribes of Indians to whom allotments have been made shall have the benefit of and be subject to the laws, both civil and criminal, of the State or Territory in which they may reside (6.1).

    This statement pretty much speaks for itself. It's just telling the Native Americans that they need to play by our rules, now. Oh, and they will "benefit" from them, too. How'd that work out?

    That nothing in this act contained shall be so construed to affect the right and power of Congress to grant the right of way through any lands granted to an Indian, or a tribe of Indians, for railroads or other highways, or telegraph lines, for the public use, or condemn such lands to public uses, upon making just compensation (10.1).

    This last clause in the Dawes Act is a huge clue as to how they expect everything to go down. It's basically saying that while they just painstakingly drafted this bill for the benefit of the Native Americans, all of it doesn't matter if the government decides that their land is deemed essential for public use. It's like the city today saying, "Sure, you can build your house there. Just be warned, though, if we decide that the highway needs to go through your back yard, we can do that. Just FYI."

  • Choices

    That all allotments set apart under the provisions of this act shall be selected by the Indians, heads of families selecting for their minor children, and the agents shall select for each orphan child, and in such manner as to embrace the improvements of the Indians making the selection. […] (2.1).

    It's great that the Native Americans supposedly had choices about where they wanted their 160 acres of land (within the reservation, of course), but was it really a choice if they were forced into it? Not to mention that the reservations were created by the government in the first place.

    That if any one entitled to an allotment shall fail to make a selection within four years after the President shall direct that allotments may be made on a particular reservation, the Secretary of the Interior my direct the agent of such tribe or band, if such there be, and if there be no agent, then a special agent appointed for that purpose, to make a selection for such Indian, which selection shall be allotted as in cases where selections are made by the Indians, and patents shall issue in like manner (2.3).

    How many times have you heard your parents say, "Pick one, or we'll pick one for you?" Like, a million times? No? Just us? Well, either way, this is pretty paternalistic. If a person chose not to select their allotment within four years, one would be selected for them.

    That where any Indian not residing upon a reservation, or for whose tribe no reservation has been provided by treaty, act of Congress, or executive order, shall make settlement upon any surveyed or unsurveyed lands of the United States not otherwise appropriated, he or she shall be entitled, upon application to the local land-office for the district in which the lands arc located, to have the same allotted to him or her, and to his or her children, in quantities and manner as provided in this act for Indians residing upon reservations […] (4.1).

    The folks get the choice of having the land they already owned allotted to them. Sweet.

    And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens, whether said Indian has been or not, by birth or otherwise, a member of any tribe of Indians within the territorial limits of the United States without in any manner affecting the right of any such Indian to tribal or other property (6.2).

    U.S. citizenship: who wouldn't want it? Hmm…maybe people who had their own form of tribal government, culture, and way of life?

    That the provisions of this act shall not extend to the territory occupied by the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Osage, Miamies and Peorias, and Sacs and Foxes, in the Indian Territory, nor to any of the reservations of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians in the State of New York, nor to that strip of territory in the State of Nebraska adjoining the Sioux Nation on the south added by executive order (8.1).

    This didn't last long. Within a little more than a decade, these tribes would be given the "choice" of disbanding and accepting allotments.

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