You are not logged in.
Dawes Commission allots lands and destroys tribal governments
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Wed, Jun 16, 2010
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In the early 20th century, the U.S. government compiled the Dawes Roll to allot Cherokee Nation lands that were held in common by CN citizens, which meant a dramatic shift in Cherokee lifestyle.
Gene Norris, senior genealogist for the Cherokee National Historical Society, explained how and why the Dawes Roll was created in his presentation “The Dawes Final Roll and Public Misconceptions.” The presentation was made during the ninth annual Cherokee Ancestry Conference June 11-12 in Tahlequah.
The Dawes Roll was named after Sen. Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, who headed the Dawes Commission until his death in 1903. He argued for the passage of the 1887 Dawes Allotment Act that was meant to allot Indian lands.
“There are many people today who don’t understand what the Dawes Roll was about and what it was meant to do,” Norris said. “The Dawes Final Roll changed Cherokee identity to this day.”
There was a call for statehood in Indian Territory in the 1880s, but because the Cherokee Nation and other Indian Territory tribes held land in common, Norris said, a system was needed to abolish tribal governments and allot land to individual tribal citizens.
Norris said Dawes visited the CN in 1883 to make an “examination” of the Nation and found there was no poverty or national debt, and the tribe had “fine” social and educational institutions. However, he said the Cherokee people lacked “selfishness,” which he considered a weakness, based on their concept of holding land in common.
“They did not understand a person could own a parcel of property,” Norris said. “The land was there for everyone. For the Cherokee, your home, your barn, your cows, your chickens, your crops, it did belong to you, but the ground on which it stood belonged to the entire nation.”
Dawes believed because Cherokee people did not believe in owning land, they did not believe in bettering themselves more than their neighbors. Though his report on Indian Territory contained erroneous information, Norris said, Dawes was able to convince Congress an allotment process was needed, which was resisted by the so-called Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminole.
“Congress really wasn’t paying any attention to what the report said. They just voted on it and passed it (Dawes Allotment Act) in 1887,” Norris said.
The Cherokee Nation lobbied against the act in Congress because it did not want to surrender more land. However, in 1896, the U.S. government began taking applications for allotment, despite many Cherokees not coming forward to apply. The U.S. government denied applications in 1896 because so few Cherokees applied.
In 1898, Congress passed the Curtis Act, an amendment to the Dawes Act, to finally bring about the allotment process and abolish the five tribes’ governments to make way for Oklahoma statehood in 1907.