Dawes Severalty Act

Kathleen Washburn

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2014 | | DOI:
Dawes Severalty Act

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The General Allotment Act or Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 had a dramatic impact on Indian Country in the context of US settler colonialism. Named for Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, the statute authorized the survey of American Indian reservations and the allotment of such lands to recognized tribal members for individual ownership. As part of broader federal and social movements to assimilate native people to a national domestic order and to break up tribal lands and cultural traditions, the Dawes Act was designed to convert reservation lands into a system of private property and to release so-called “surplus” lands for settlement by non-Indians. The statute allowed for allocations of up to 160 acres for the head of a household, 80 acres to a single person or orphan under the age of 18, and 40 acres for each legal minor. In addition, the Dawes Act stipulated that such allotments would be held in trust by the federal government for twenty-five years; at that point, each Indian recipient of allotted land who had “adopted the habits of civilized life” would be granted land title (fee patent) and become a US citizen. Amended in 1891 to allow the leasing of Indian lands in certain circumstances and reinforced by the Curtis Act of 1898, which extended allotment policy to Indian Territory, the Dawes Act undermined indigenous forms of community and cultural practices and ultimately led to tribal land losses of 90 million acres. From Gender, Sexuality, and Allotment Policy and the Management of Natural Resources to key shifts in the relationship between Native American Sovereignty and Federal Indian Law, the Dawes Act had profound effects on diverse native communities, even as allotment marked a continuation of earlier forms of US expansion through the politics of dispossession. In turn, although the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act halted the allotment of Indian lands and called for increased forms of tribal self-determination, the Legacies of the Dawes Act for Modern Native Communities continue to resonate for criminal and civil jurisdiction, debates about Blood Quantum and Tribal Citizenship, often linked to racialized designations of Indian identity from tribal allotment rolls, and issues of inheritance such as Fractionated Allotments and the Cobell Settlement. From studies of Progressive Era Reform Movements and Literary Criticism to Allotment Policy and Political Theory, scholars across disciplines continue to investigate the history, administration, and complex consequences of allotment policy for indigenous communities in the United States and in relation to Global Indigenous Contexts.

Article.  17662 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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