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.



Anonymous said...

The Dawes Act was catastrophic for Indians. It made self reliance as tribal entities practically impossible. Which, of course, was the whole point behind Dawes.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who the other three are, but that's Chief Koostatah behind Ickles. Picture was taken right after the government took power away from the chiefs and gave it to idiots, I mean Tribal Councils.

Sarah said...

Hi, I'm just a random law student who is studying the debate around privatization of reserves in Canada. I think it's a terrible idea. I think the problem with the argument in the Forbes article is it's limited analysis of the reasons behind poverty on the reserves. It is a strictly ideological and economic lens, that ignores all the social and historical elements that have created impoverished conditions among aboriginals. I disagree that their poverty is only due to their economic system. This was not true pre-colonization, and the assessment is essentially eurocentric and ignores the cultural perspective of aboriginal communities (who have a spiritual connection to the land and derive their identity from that connection). But anyway, the biggest problem I have with the privatization argument is the likelihood of dispossession. That's what happened in the Dawes Act, and that's what will happen here. Especially for very poor reserve families, their bargaining power is limited by their lack of resources. They are unlikely to get fair market value in negotiations with resource-rich developers. And then once the land is sold, there is no going back. The other problem is that if aboriginal title is converted to fee simple title, it will undermine the constitutional protection of aboriginal land that First Nations enjoy (but owners of fee simple do not enjoy in Canada). We don't have constitutional protection of our property like in the US under the fifth amendment. But First Nations do under s 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Maria Gifford said...

Idle No More..

Maria Gifford said...

Sarah..would just point out that usually the land has been sold unlawfully.It can be reclaimed thrue presenting original Treaties . The old,old bigger land treaties. It has happened in Maine with the Passamaquaddy and Penobscott Tribes. Maybe you could contact somebody there and find out how it was