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The Dawes Act of February 8, 1887

The Dawes Act
February 8, 1887
(U. S. Statutes at Large, Vol. XXIV, p. 388 ff.)

(The General Allotment Act (1887): By this measure (ch. 119, 24 Stat. 388, now codified as amended at 25 U.S.C. 331 et seq.; also known as the "Dawes Act" or "Dawes Severalty Act"), the U.S. intervened unilaterally in the internal affairs of native nations to break up their traditional systems of collective land tenure. In order to retain any land at all, native people - legally defined for the first time on the basis of a racist "blood quantum" code employed for identification purposes by the federal government - were compelled to accept individually deeded land parcels. "Full Blood Indians" were deeded with "trust patents," over which the government exercised complete control for a minimum of twenty-five years; "Mixed Blood Indians" were deeded with "patents in fee simple," over which they exercised rights, but were forced to accept U.S. citizenship in the process. Once each "federally recognized Indian" had received his or her allotment of land, the balance of reserved Indian land was opened up to non-Indian homesteading, corporate utilization, or incorporation into national parks and forests. Between 1887 and 1934, approximately two-thirds (100 million acres) of all Indian-reserved land was appropriated by the government through the mechanism.)

[Congressman Henry Dawes, author of the act, once expressed his faith in the civilizing power of private property with the claim that to be civilized was to "wear civilized clothes...cultivate the ground, live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school, drink whiskey [and] own property."]

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.

Be it enacted, 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 or executive order setting apart the same for their use, the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized, whenever in his opinion any reservation or any part thereof of such Indians is advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes to cause said reservation, or any part thereof, to be surveyed, or resurveyed if necessary, and to allot the lands in said reservations in severalty to any Indian located thereon in quantities as follows:

To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section;

To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section;

To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and,

To each other single person under eighteen years now living, 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, one-sixteenth of a section; . . .


SEC. 5. That upon the approval of the allotments provided for in this act by the Secretary of the Interior, he shall . . . 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, . . . and that at the expiration of said period the United States will convey the same by patent to said Indian, or his heirs as aforesaid, in fee, discharged of such trust and free of all charge or encumbrance whatsoever: . . .

SEC. 6. That upon the completion of said allotments and the patenting of the lands to said allottees, 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; . . .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 impairing or otherwise affecting the right of any such Indian to tribal or other property. . . .

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