The Dawes Severalty Act, also known as The Dawes General Allotment (Severalty) Act, was a U.S. constitutional law, enacted for converting all Indian tribal lands to individual ownership.
Massachusetts Senator Henry L. Dawes also known as a Senate reformer, wanted justice and citizenship for Native Americans. However, he felt that the traditional Indian culture of nomadism, especially their land holding patterns, was a major obstacle in their attaining American citizenship. Senator Henry L. Dawes proposed an act where traditional tribal land ownership would be liquidated, and Native Americans would be allotted land and extended U.S. Citizenship as well.
Details about the Act
The Dawes Act was enacted on 8th February, 1887 by President Grover Cleveland and enforced distribution of land holdings among Native Americans in Oklahoma. Details of the different sections of the Act are as mentioned here.
This section authorized the President and the U.S. Congress to distribute land among individual Native Americans. The head of a family would receive 160 acres, a single adult person, over the age of 18, would receive 80 acres each, and minors, including orphans born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment, would receive 40 acres each.
This section gave the right to Native Americans to select their own land allotment. The head of the family was also given the right to select land for their minor children as well as orphans. This section also gave the President the right to allot reserved land, if the said Native American failed to make a selection within four years of prior allotment.
All land allotments would require a certification from a U.S. American agent, who would provide two copies of land holding deeds to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Of the two copies, one was to be retained in the Indian Office and the other to be sent to the Secretary of the Interior for his action and to be maintained in the General Land Office.
This section was provided for all Native Americans who were not residing on the land allotted, as well as for those who had no land allotted to them. It said all such natives would be adjusted upon the survey of the lands and would be issued to them as per law. It also stated that the land survey officers would be paid money from the Treasury of the United States, rather than the said Native.
This section transferred all land holdings to the Secretary of the Interior, to be held in trust for 25 years. During which, the land could not be sold or transferred to any other individual. The President reserved the right to extend the trust period.
All unallocated land, with prior consent of the tribe it belonged to would be ratified of the sale by Congress and sold to the Secretary of the Interior for an agreed-upon price.
A provision granting 160 acres of land to religious and educational institutions already located on Native American land, for continued religious or educational use, is also made in this section.
Another provision stated that "those Indians who have availed themselves of the provisions of this act and become citizens of the United States shall be preferred for public service jobs".
This section dealt with the granting of U.S. citizenship to all those who had completed all land allotment processes. The section stated that Native Indians, "be entitled to all the rights, privileges and immunities of such citizens".
This section addresses the use of water for irrigation by the Native Americans upon their reserved land. It preserves the right of water allocation and equal distribution with the Secretary of the Interior. No excess appropriation of water would be allowed or granted to riparian land holders.
The five civilized tribes i.e. the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole, and several others tribes like Osage, Peorias, Sacs, etc., were exempted from the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887.
This section was made to provide for all monetary expenses borne to enforce the act. The sum of one hundred thousand dollars would be provided by the U.S. Treasury, which would be repaid from the proceeds of the sale of land from the Natives.
This section gave absolute and complete power of Eminent Domain to the U.S. Congress to take the allotted land back for railroads, highways, telegraph lines, and all other public uses.
This provision was to facilitate the move or removal of the Southern Ute Native Americans, from their present allotted land (reservation) in Southwestern Colorado to a new place, but only with the consent of a majority of the adult male members of the said tribe.
Though, well meaning, the Dawes Act, worked against the Native Americans. It undermined their way of life and could not assimilate them in the American culture. The Natives lost vast stretches of their land holdings, resulting in massive land losses and widespread displacement, poverty, and despair. The unallocated remaining tribal lands was declared surplus and were opened for sale to the whites. The Act underwent two amendments in 1891 and again in 1906 by the Burke Act. The Dawes Severalty Act was revoked in 1934.