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Loss of the Tribal Estate as a Result of the Dawes Act

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 10 years, 10 months ago


Loss of the Tribal Estate as a Result of the Dawes Act

In 1881 the tribal estate is approx. 156 million acres; if each of 300,000 native Americans are given acreage under terms of Dawes Act [160 acres for head of families; 80 for single adult males, 40 per child], there would be 105 million acre surplus to be sold to fund civilization/educational programs.






Land Loss, 1887-1932: is 2/3 of the Indian landed estate, or reduction to approximately 50 million acres resulting from

  • sale of "surplus lands" (the remainder after each tribal member given an allotment)
  • sale of allotted lands by "competent" Indians, i.e. those who had land patents in fee simple title (up to 90 % on many reservations)


Post-1933: tribal estate is 70 mil. acres [20 million of this is. non-productive, e.g. Mission Indian lands in So. Cal. is 80-95% desert/mountain land]

  • 30 mil. is under corporate tribal title (e.g. Nav. have approximately 16 mil. acres today under corporate title)  
  • 40 mil. acres held by individuals
    • 23 mil. in fee simple owned by 120,000 "competent" Ind. who could sell if they wished 
    • 17 mil. is owned by 100,000 "restricted" Indians

Today (2007), 55.7 million acres of Indian trust land is managed by the BIA for 562 federally recognized tribes (DOI, aka Dept. of the Interior website statistics)

Beyond land loss, allotment's long term impact

1) land system: the reservation checkerboard, IIM accounts, and fractionalized allotments

Trust fund case (begun as Cobell v. Norton class action suit in 1990s and still unresolved in 2007:

"The record-keeping problem began sometime after 1887 when the U.S. Congress enacted the General Allotment Act dividing tribal lands into individual parcels," said Jill Tompkins, director of the law school's Indian Law Clinic. "The act also created individual trusts to be managed by the government and royalty money made from leasing the parcels to oil, timber and grazing interests were supposed to be dispersed to Native Americans across the country but never were." According to government records, an estimated $40 billion dollars is owed to over 500,000 individual Indian trust beneficiaries, Tompkins said.

The BIA's management of Indian trust land from 1887 to 1934 was a clear failure: the Indian estate was impoverished. Today, 47 % of Indian families on reservations/Indian trust land fall below the poverty level.

Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians created in early 21st century to address land trust issues

2) jurisdiction: Indians were subject to state jurisdiction, as Andrew Jackson recommended in 1817, once the termination program commenced by the Dawes Allotment Act was in full swing, but the federal trust relationship and aspects of tribal sovereignty were never completely eradicated, and sovereignty was revitalized in with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and the Self-Determination Policy (1970) and Act (1975)

Thus, as Colin Calloway writes, "The relationship of the federal/state/Indian law is a tangle of overlapping and sometimes conflicting jurisdictions."

3) identity: Who Is An Indian? the complexities of jurisdiction are mirrored in the complexities of identity. Formulas for determining who is legally an Indian remain elusive. Although the categories of Competent and restricted Indians, 1887-1934. were discarded in 1934, the long legacy of associating restricted or "real" Indians with incompetency and wardship did much psychological damage.

"Implicit in thes policies [before 1965] was also the not-so-subtle subtext of assimilation--that Indianness was something to be discarded, inferior to the larger Anglo culture." (American Nations, p. 345)

Estimates of modern-day reservation alcoholism range from 50 % to 80%.



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