Dawes Act

Dawes Act

by Grace Quinn -
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One consequence of allotment was the dissipation of effective value of land owned by Indians and tribes. Since fractionation has been one of the primary causes, an intuitive solution mentioned by Shoemaker is to reshuffle land so that a person who used to own a collection of effectively valueless interests can trade them in for an equal piece of land that they have practical control over. Aside from the fact that the sum total of property under Indian ownership is far less than economically sufficient to be divided between all the people who have some share in it, another issue is the energy barrier that must be overcome in getting people to give up the property they already hold in faith that they are exchanging it for something of equal or greater value. Shoemaker suggests that incentives might be able to make this process work, but it seems like an enormous issue in trying to resolve the problems caused by Allotment is that value of all Indian property has been dissipated to such an extent that no one but the U.S. government would be able to offer such incentives. Despite a number of legislative efforts—more like gestures—to protect rights and interests of tribes, it seems that neither money nor land have really been contributed to solving the disasters that result from the U.S. government’s recurrent peaks in greed and racism. The few awards that Indians have ever gotten from the U.S. government and tribes have been passive compensation as opposed to contributing to any programs, especially Indian-led, to actively assist in helping tribes recover from the blows of colonialism. There are some obvious potential issues with the U.S. providing aid in active rebuilding and reordering processes, most of which relate directly to the persistence of the same colonialist and ethnocentric perspectives that driven the most damaging policies with regard to Indians and tribes. Are there ways for the government to provide material support to tribes’ restrengthening without being in oppressive control of the changes or placing itself in the paternalistic role? Every time the government has swung toward assimilationist or otherwise culturally oppressive policy, Indians and tribes have lost land, resources, and rights that provide the basis for self-determination, which both authors agree is a vital factor in sovereignty. Although historically some rights have been restored through reinterpretation of legal writings, it seems from the accounts that we read this week that the times of stronger legal support for tribes have mostly resulted in confirming some tribal rights and sometimes providing a better legal basis for certain types of assistance to legal tribes, but generally not actively providing or incentivizing this assistance, as in IRA. The robbing of Indian land has left tribes without the resources to be remotely self-sufficient and self-determining as a nation-state would, and this problem is not addressed or mentioned openly even in the modern legislation we read, which talks about “sovereignty” in vague theoretical terms when it needs to be acknowledged that Indian sovereignty has been extensively abused and systematically dismantled by our government’s past actions, many of which are now generally acknowledged as mistakes. Allotment and fractionation are not historical events, but are still imposing poverty and dehumanization by the hand of the U.S government, and it seems impossible for modern policy dealing with the affected people to be productive without actively and repeatedly making this acknowledgement.