New drive to privatize Indian reservations has much in common with past efforts to steal Native land
While its advocates say protections would be built in, previous efforts—the allotment system begun near the end of the Indian wars, and the termination of reservations and tribes from 1953 to 1964—show how such promises supposedly designed to help Indians were a snare and delusion quickly taken advantage of by non-Indians eager to grab Native land and devour its resources. This outcome was not an unintended byproduct of well-meaning reformers. It was the inevitable consequence of laws that Indians were not asked their opinions of in advance.
The 21st-century privatization scheme makes it imperative to revisit past such efforts.
In fact, 2017 marks the 130th anniversary of President Grover Cleveland’s signing of the Dawes Act. That single piece of legislation had a more devastating impact on Native Americans than anything other than the century-long Indian wars themselves. And it was initiated by people who claimed, and some who actually believed, that they had Indians’ best interests at heart.
It was all part of forced assimilation, a profoundly racist policy dedicated to “killing the Indian to save the man” in the notorious terminology of Captain Richard Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The school was designed along prison lines. There, and at dozens of militaristic boarding schools across the nation, Indian children—many forcibly taken from their parents—had their names changed, their hair cut, their languages forbidden, their culture and customs denigrated, and their tribal ties destroyed, only to be sneered at by the dominant society when they actually tried to adopt white ways once they left the schools.
There is a name for this: cultural genocide. This isn’t just ancient history. Modern American Indians, whether they live on reservations, on private agricultural land, or in urban centers, still suffer from the consequences of these policies.
Before the Dawes Act and follow-up acts were effectively repealed after 47 years by the Indian Reorganization Act, 90 million acres had been wrenched from communally-owned Indian lands held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, leaving just one-third of what the tribes had held in 1886, the year Geronimo (Goyaałé), the Chiricahua Apache, surrendered and was shipped off to prison.
Named after Sen. Henry L. Dawes, who headed the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at the time, the law was the culmination of practices toward Indians that had begun within a decade of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth in 1620. Boiled down to their essence, those policies said to Indians: Get out of our way, or else. However, getting out of the way often wasn’t enough to prevent the “or else.”
The intent was assimilation. Killing the Indian and saving the man meant turning Indians into farmers of acreage they held individually, altering gender roles, shattering kinship connections, breaking up communal land and tribal government, and, ultimately, wiping out reservations altogether. Officials thought this would be better for everyone as Indians adopted norms of the dominant culture. It would certainly prove valuable for transferring prime real estate out of Native hands.
The allotted land was meant to be held in federal trust for 25 years, after which ownership and citizenship would go to Indians still working their allotment. To take full possession of any land, a woman had to be officially married. All inherited land passed through the male head of household. This broke the custom of the many tribes with matrilineal heritages.
The “surplus” land, that is, what was left after allotments, was flung open to white settlement and ownership. This was the provision’s most likable quality for congressmen and businessmen who would just have soon have slaughtered or starved every Indian still alive. Half the Great Sioux Reservation was sold to outsiders after Native allotments were distributed.
The dispossession was wildly successful. Partly as a consequence of the act, by 1900 the American Indian population had fallen to its lowest point in U.S. history, about 237,000.
The allotment period was ended under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. But within a few years, a new effort was begun to create additional “surplus” land for non-Indian settlement: Termination.
Starting in 1940, moves were made by several states to take over jurisdiction of the reservations within their boundaries, and in 1953, the federal government enacted a law that immediately terminated the Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of California, New York, Florida, and Texas. In the process, 109 tribes were terminated, and 1.4 million acres of Indian land were added to the 90 million acres taken under Dawes and other allotment acts.
In 1968, however, President Johnson proposed ending the termination acts, a move formally declared by President Nixon and followed until 1988 when Congress rescinded the House resolution that had begun federal termination. Eventually, the majority of the terminated tribes were restored, along with some of their land. But 11 tribes continue to fight for restoration of tribal sovereignty and their land.
Resistance to the new potential for another brand of termination has yet to gather steam, but if the Trump regime decides to move ahead with the privatization scheme, that resistance will rise. And this time around, thanks to organizations that didn’t exist in the past like the Native American Rights Fund, the American Indian Movement, Idle No More, as well as young tribal leaders and Native attorneys and their non-Indian allies in and out of Congress, advocates of this latest rip-off shouldn’t expect an easy path to their goals.
Emphasis added. The world is watching. #Native #America #theresistance