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General Allotment Act

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Dawes Act, also referred to as the General Allotment Act came into force in 1887. It would also be called Dawes Severalty Act. This law authorized the US president to survey Indian ethnic land.  He would then divide it in terms of allotments to individual Indians. The law has, however, been amended severally. For example, it got amendments in 1891 and 1906. Dawes Act was named after the senator, Henry Dawes, who sponsored. The main objective of the act, as stated, would be to assimilate Indians to American society. Owning land individually appeared to be one vital step. The government would also purchase the land owned by Indians and reserve it for settlement by people who were not Indians. A commission was set in 1893 not to help in administering Dawes Act, but get back five tribes that had been excluded from the act, yet were civilized. The commission needed to make the five tribes agree with the allotment plan. In 1908, the jurisdiction of Indian land, which was seen as tribal, became destroyed by the Curtis Act.

Dawes act 1881 was a federal law meant to make Native Americans become landowners and farmers through the provision of 160 acres for grazing and farming. Supporters of this law believed that this federal law would make Indians civilized by changing their lifestyle from nomadic to farming. They would no longer be treated as tribes, but rather like “members”. Native Americans were also to be given American citizenship. The Indian culture was, however, undermined by the law even though it was well intended. Their hunting rights became restricted since they could no longer hunt in the reserved lands. Most of the reserved land belonged to the whites after enactment of the law. According to Senator M. Teller, the law intended to open up Indian land to make it ready for resettlement.

The government of United States has been unsuccessful in registering Native Indians even though it has put a lot of efforts, for several years. Dawes act 1887 was one of such efforts by U.S. government, while the Indians were suspicious of the Act because the government had previously relocated land in a clumsy way. Some Indians refused to register for fear of being punished. To be registered in the Dawes Act, Native Americans were required to change their names, or to ‘anglicize’ them. A number of government agents, who were meant to administer the Dawes Act, put their relatives’ names to the Dawes Rolls. This made people, who did not deserve it, acquire several acres of land.

Abuses of Dawes Act became revealed in the Miriam report. A group of prominent citizens and Native Americans was selected to investigate the allegations of abuse and corruption in the Dawes Act. This group was constituted of 1001 people. Massive misappropriation and fraud, by agents of the government, were reported. Discoveries were made that, at the time of Dawes Act, Indian land measured 138 million acres. However, this land became reduced to 47 million acres after the act was repelled. Repeal of this act came as a result of Miriam Report although the fraud and misappropriation that had occurred could not be restored. It was, however, agreed that the Indians would be compensated. They would receive credit fund, which was designed to encourage self sufficiency, as well as small businesses. The government started recruiting Native American Indians to work in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, established by the Indian courts.

A mechanism was established to enable pooling of land by Indians. They would own land as a corporate entity. They would also purchase land, as well. It was discovered that, by 1954, the reorganization act was failing. The act’s implementation became affected by corruption and in competencies brought about by Dawes Act. It was then that the Bureau of Indians Affairs without hesitation initiated ‘phase of relocation and termination’ as part of the Act reorganization. Programs of IRA were no longer funded leading to several bankruptcies and dislocation among the natives. Sixty-one tribes also became unrecognized; thus losing government recognition leading to lack of government assistance. It is not yet well known whether this was an administrative idea, or it was simply a way to exploit Native Americans. Some of these Native Americans are to date fighting back for their rights. 

At one time, an Indian girl called Clinton who was the president by that time demanding an explanation as to why she did not have her heritage. The President told the girl that he was not aware of such a thing and that he would look into the matter. This girl came from Lumbee tribe, found in North Carolina consisting of at least 40,000 Indians. This tribe had been erased through relocation and termination act of 1954. The response was that the president was sorry but such a tribe did not exist according to the government.

The government of United States granted citizenship to Native American Indians in 1924. It is well known that they had never enjoyed such a privilege in the past. In 1990, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act became enacted. It was signed by President Bush and the law aimed at bringing changes and clearing the mess, which had been made over 100 years ago. This law would protect Native craftsmen who lived in America by preventing counterfeit and several other things. The federal government, however, had to certify the Indian artisans to enable them sell their products. The act also defined an Indian as any person belonging to an Indian tribe or, a person certified to become an Indian artisan.

Certification process brought a problem, as having been born to Indian parents was not enough to prove a person’s tribe. It also proved difficult to trace a person’s lineage. An applicant had to belong to a tribe that according to U.S government was an Indian tribe. As mentioned earlier, termination of the Act erased at least 61 Indian tribes. A person’s parents must have been recognized by the government of United States as Indians. The problem arose in that it was difficult for the Native Americans to obtain documents due to the confusion that was brought by Dawes Act, and the termination of the Act. Again, the conditions that prevailed in the third world countries were harsh; hence it was difficult to obtain documents that would show to which tribe a person belonged given the fact that several tribes existed simultaneously.

Several Indians, who are genuinely artisans, cannot obtain certification easily under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act simply because their tribes got erased long ago. Authority does not exist to enable them to become certified even if they deserve to be certified artisans. Many Indian families who depended on artisan for a living had their livelihood confiscated following enactment of the act by the United States government. Those artisans who do not obey the law risk being fined money amounting to one million. They also get imprisoned for fifteen years. Groups or corporations who do not follow the regulations get fined an amount of money totaling to five million. Most Indian artisans cannot compete effectively. Jeanne Walker is one example of Indian artisans who cannot participate in Indian Heritage Competition since she has been barred by the government of United States. She has been an expert for a long time and has even won several awards. She cannot participate because her relatives, family, and ancestors were frauds, according to the law. Indian artisans also find difficulties while getting registered based on ethnic heritage. This process reminds them of the olden days when their rights had been based on blood quantities. The method was used to control non-whites living in South Africa. The process was referred to as “Certification of Degree of Indian Blood”. Indians became tired of getting registered, deregistered and eventually erased administratively as a result of corruption and incompetent bureaucracy. This idea leads to ethnic cleansing, thus diving Native Americans by stating that some are certified while others are not. This division brings a lot of tension because people who should be united get divided by the law.

Many Native Americans who were not registered continued practicing the ancestral art; hence defying the legislation. These people are currently doing the art as American citizens but not as American Indians. They earned these constitutional rights after fighting for them painfully. An Art and Craft Act for Indians should indeed protect them rather than disenfranchise individuals in terms of their culture and heritage. For advanced civilization, Indians had to own land individually rather than communally. However, Indians were quick to resist this as it meant land grabbing by those called “reformers”. The Indians were finally denied land, which later became occupied by white settlers.

The new policy also intended to kill the Indian culture. Americans believed that Native American culture lacked value, and since Indians did not appear to understand this, they had to be forced to accept White’s culture, which was superior to theirs. An integrated society was vital in comparison with several separate cultures. This is what was referred to as “assimilation”. Most Indians in America had been affected by the military and they mainly relied on aid from the U.S government. The reformers were, therefore, lucky since they would reward ‘good Indians’ who could not resist their demands. In 1883, polygamy, “medicine making”, sun dance and bridal payment became illegal. The whites viewed these cultural practices as “anti progressive” that hindered civilization.

Many Native Americans in Kiowa, Cheyenne and Comanche who were prisoners got exiled in Florida. One of the army officers supervising them came up with an idea that these people needed civilization through education. The government supported his idea, and he was funded to establish a boarding school in Carlisle where Indian children would attend classes. This idea was referred to as “killing the Indian and saving the man”. The aim was, however, to kill the Indian culture by enrolling Indian children to white classes where they would learn a superior culture. In school, children were not allowed to speak in Indian language. They could also not contact their families for them to forget the “primitive culture”. Military lines would run these schools.

Therefore, obedience was expected at all times and timetabled routine had to be followed. Discipline was considered paramount. Native American beliefs became replaced by the Christianity. The first half of learning was meant for “education”, and the other half was devoted for ‘industrial training’. Sessions referred to as ‘outings’ were also developed. Here, children would visit white families locally as a way of encouraging cultural assimilation. The children would also be given American names such as John, Maggie among others.

New European settlers arrived at the Eastern border, where most Native Americans were settled. The government believed that it would face ‘Indian problem’ since these communities were different from the whites and living together would have caused chaos. Indian commissioner, therefore, proposed the establishment of colonies for the natives. The U.S government decided to uproot the Native Americans so as to settle the European Americans. They argued that the reason behind this was to protect the new European settlers from the evil ways of the Natives. This policy led to many deaths and sufferings due to resistance by the Native Americans. Each tribe was eventually allotted a piece of land with protection against their territories. Treaties were signed in negotiation for this allotment. Mixed emotions became stirred among the Americans because of tribal organizations of the Native Americans who had hereditary chiefs. These chiefs used Indian traditions in exercising their power. Many Americans feared the Native American organizations and they, therefore, advocated for reforms.

The Native Americans were opposed to the most of changes as they thought it would weaken their positions. A top priority for government’s agenda was civilization through assimilation. They wanted an independent agricultural society. Enactment of Dawes Act aimed at accomplishing six main objectives. The first objective was breaking the tribes into social units. Individual initiatives were also to be encouraged. The Act also aimed at reducing the administrative cost spent on the Native Americans in order to progress the farmers. Part of the land was to be reserved as Indian land. Finally, the Dawes Act aimed at opening the remaining land so that European settlers would maximize their profits.

 The American government allotted reservations even without the consent of Native American Indians. This forced them to become ‘Euro Americanized’, which they did not like. Native Americans had ideologies regarding their land. They cared for and they valued it because of its ability to sustain their lives. The land was also valued as it produced all the things that they required. It was the source of their existence and it gave them a sense of belonging. Unlike the Americans and Europeans, they did not value land for its economic standpoint. However, to ensure their survival, the natives had to surrender to the progression forces. They needed to adopt American values since Americans constituted the majority in the society. They found it difficult, however, to view land as a real estate that could be developed after being purchased. They also needed to learn how to use their land effectively and efficiently in order to prosper in farming. The American government wanted the Native Americans to become self supporting citizens who did not have to be supervised by the government.

According to the Dawes Act, the head of the family would be entitled to 160 acres of land. An orphan or a single person, on the other hand, would receive 80 acres and those below the age of 18 would receive 40 acres of land. An Indian who had adopted American values was to be bestowed with U.S citizenship. A member of a tribe would be subjected to laws of their territory. There was to be a secretary who would ensure distribution of irrigation water equally among all the existing tribes. The Act did not apply to Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Miamies, Peorias, and Seminoles territories. The Act was amended in 1881 when it failed to meet the quantities allocated to each individual originally. It also stated that grazing land should be allocated and allotted in double terms. The amendment also gave the criteria to be followed in case of inheritance. Burke Act provided that the Secretary of Interior had the power to force title of land on an Indian. Native Americans obtained American citizenship after accepting the allotted land. Land that was allocated to Indians was not taxed. Again, Burke Act was not applicable to Indian territories (Murrin, 2010).

Dawes Act affected Native Americans negatively in that they lost the valued communal holding of land. This Act was followed by Curtis Act 1898 that dissolved tribal governments including the tribal courts. Land owned by Native American Indians was reduced significantly. Americans wanted to strengthen the nuclear family ties. Allotment of land that was meant to be sold, later in future, started being sold to non-native buyers. Profits obtained from the sales of these lands assisted in funding programs meant to aid Native American Indians.  However, the Native Americans did not benefit from the profits earned, instead they were left landless. Any land belonging to an ‘incompetent’ Indian would be leased to the federal government by the Secretary of the Interior since he had been authorized to do so. An allottee would be free to decide whether to keep his land or to sell it. They could not get credit or a ready market, and liquidation of their land became inevitable. The Interior department knew that eventually, most Indian land, under free patent, would be sold to the whites.

Allotment policy ended hunting since the land base became depleted. Most Indian men took up roles that previously belonged to women. Their gender roles changed since they were used to communal living. Women could no longer take care of the land, and they did not receive recognition in political spheres. Native women depended on their husbands for survival. Before the land became allotted, women possessed necessary social and political status since they helped in kin networking. For a woman to receive 160 acres of land it was necessary to be married officially.


In conclusion, a problem arose when it came to the certification process. Having been born to Indian parents was not enough to prove a person’s tribe. It also proved difficult to trace a person’s lineage. An applicant had to belong to a tribe that according to U.S government was an Indian tribe. As mentioned earlier, termination of the Act erased at least 61 Indian tribes. A person’s parents must have been recognized by the government of United States as Indians. The problem arose in that it was difficult for the Native Americans to obtain documents due to the confusion that was brought by Dawes Act, and the termination of the Act. Again, the conditions that prevailed in the third world countries were harsh; hence it was difficult to obtain documents that would show to which tribe a person belonged taking into account the fact that several tribes existed at that time.

It has also been discussed that under Dawes Act reserved land became allotted to individual Indians. The excess of land that was not allotted was eventually sold to the whites with permission from the tribes.

 An Indian whose land was held in trust was not included in the US jurisdiction. Such people would also get full American citizenship. People considered Dawes Act to be an important one as some families benefited from the profits earned following the sale of the land, which had not been allotted. The value of land owned by Indians increased as ranches, farms, roads, businesses, municipal governments, among other services developed. The initial intentions of the act were admirable as the Indian lands would generate money that would help in developing counties, schools, and states. When the congress failed to assimilate Native Americans into American society, several problems became created to the reservation residents. The reorganization act 1934 is the one that created economic and political systems, which remain to date. The Dawes Act failed due to corruption of the government agents and resistance from the Indians.

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