SOC 2390 Lecture Notes - Indian Reorganization Act, Indian Removal Act, Dawes Act
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1) Indian Removal Act
• The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830, called for the relocation of all Eastern tribes across the
Mississippi River. The act was very popular with Whites because it opened more land to settlement
through annexation of tribal land. Almost all Whites felt that Native Americans had no right to block
progress, defining progress as movement by White society. Among the largest groups relocated were
the five tribes of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole, who were resettled in what is
now Oklahoma. The movement, lasting more that a decade, has been called the Trail of Tears because
of the tribes left their ancestral lands under the harshest conditions.
2) Dawes Act
• The federal government tried to limit the functions of tribal leaders. If tribal institutions were
weakened, it was felt, the Native Americans would assimilate more rapidly.
• The government’s intention to merge the various tribes into White society was unmistakably
demonstrated in the 1887 Dawes Act (or General Allotment Act), which bypassed tribal leaders and
proposed to turn tribal members into individual landowners. Each family was given up to 160 acres
under the government’s assumption that, with land, they would become more like the White
homesteaders who were then flooding the unsettled areas of the West.
• The effect of the Allotment Act on the Native Americans was disastrous. To guarantee that they would
remain homesteaders, the act prohibited their selling of the land for 25 years; however, no effort was
made to acquaint them with the skills necessary to make the land productive. Many tribes were not
accustomed to cultivating land, considered such labor undignified, and they received no assistance in
adapting to homesteading.
3) The Reorganization Act
• The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act) recognized the need
to use, rather than ignore, tribal identity. However, the goal was still assimilation, rather than a
movement toward a pluralistic society.
• Under the Reorganization Act, tribes could adopt a written constitution and elect a tribal council with
a head. This system imposed foreign values and structures. Under it, the elected tribal leader
represented an entire reservation, which might include several tribes, some hostile to one another.
Further, the leader had to be elected by majority rule, a concept alien to many tribes. Many full-blooded
Native Americans resented the provision that mixed-bloods were to have full voting rights.
• Although the Reorganization act recognized the right of Native Americans to approve or reject some