Monday, March 12, 2012

The Dawes Act: Was it Good for Indians?

Blogger's note: March 19/2012 - I can understand that some peopole are too busy to read a whole blogpost - especially if they think the blogger disagrees with the opinions they hold dear. So I'll say up front that I think the Dawes Act was NOT good for Indians (as a whole). If you're still with me, read on to find out why.

Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes hands the first constitution issued under the Indian Reorganization Act to delegates of the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation (Montana), 1935. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION)

Scott Seaborne's guest post favoring the Dawes Act and Allotment over the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) made some valid points about responsibility and ownership and that kind of thing. I would not be the person to argue that personal responsibility isn't important and I really don't have much to say about the IRA. The Stockbridge Mohicans used it to regain their status as a federally recognized Native community. They seemed to like it. Others didn't but I doubt that there are any laws that are good for everybody.

For me the question of whether or not the Dawes Act and Allotment Era - on the whole - was good or bad for Indians can be answered in one sentance:

Land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres (560,000 km2) in 1887 to 48 million acres (190,000 km2) in 1934.
I took that from Wikipedia, but I remember seeing the same numbers in my notes recently.

So in 57 years, a race of people lost the majority of their land. To me that is too much. Those numbers alone tell me that the Dawes Act wasn't good for Indians as a whole.

Scott also sent me a Forbes article "Why Are Indians So Poor? A Look at the Bottom 1%." Here again, I don't want to go negative on a well-written article; It makes some valid points; in particular, it notes that no private ownership and no credit leads to poverty.

Then there's the question about natural resources. The author laments that Indians don't want to "develop" their natural resources. Now, you might say that the Menominees have been "developing" their wonderful old growth forest for many, many years. But I don't think that is the kind of development that our friends at Forbes are thinking about when they say "developing natural resources."

They are thinking about the building of mines and oil wells.

My opinion: If Indians don't want polluting mines and oil wells on their reservations I say more power to them.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ohio 1818: "The most interesting day in this place"

Thanks to the Google Books digitization project, a lot of old material is available to people like me who don't live near the libraries of major universities.

In searching the old Congregational publication called the Panoplist, I came upon a truly remarkable blurb taken from a letter written by an Ohio clergyman in 1818. Here it is:

In September seventy or eighty of the Stockbridge tribe of Indians passed through this place on their way to the White River, Indiana. By sickness they were detained over the Sabbath, and asked if there was to be any meeting which they could attend. They were informed that there would be a meeting and that the Lord's supper was to be administered; at which they expressed great joy, and inquired if they could be admitted. On questioning them it was found that their cheif and nine others were regularly formed into a church; and their credentials and appearance gave us satisfactory evidence of their peity. A number of them attended public worship, dressed in the Indian habit, and six came forward to the communion table. They conducted with the utmost propriety and solemnity; and some were bathed in tears. When a psalm was named they all took out their books, and turned to it. It was the most interesting day in this place.

The excerpt continues:

On Monday I visited them, conversed and prayed with them and never was more kindly and cordially received. I found that a large proportion of them had Bibles and could read. The Chief had Scott's Family Bible. they also had other religious books..... They are going to live with the Delawares, who are intimately connected with several other tribes. It appears to me that the hand of God is visible in their removal...
The "chief," was John Metoxen. The minister in Ohio way back then may well have been right when he said that "the hand of God is visible in their removal," if, that is, he meant that they were conducting themselves in a manner that spoke well of Christian Indians. However, unfortunately, the result of their journey, I'm sorry to say, was a disappointment. The land in Indiana offered by the Delawares and Miamis was ceded to the United States for white settlement at about the same time the group left their settlement in New York State.

Use this link to read the original document for yourself.