In some ways, it’s somewhat easy for most of us to become a citizen of the United States. But in the past, it was another story. For example, colonists from Britain grew weary of British oppression over the years. The settlers wanted independence from Britain and right to be there own citizen, they paid their taxes and were fairly obedient at one point, yet over many years colonists denied The Natives, African Americans, Women, etc of their rights as a citizen.
The European settlers oppressed minorities as authorities oppressed them in the past, is it a subconscious attempt to remain superior, or did they know what they were doing? This is a journey of treaties, reservations, and legal battles. For most U. S. citizens, the simple fact that we were born in this country automatically makes us citizens. But it was not until well into the 20th Century that a large group of Native-born people was given citizenship. The road to citizenship for Native people was even longer than for African Americans and women.
Native Americans did not become citizens until 1924, and it would be even longer before Native Americans gained the right to vote. Throughout the 1800s, Native tribes gradually lost their native lands. How did Native Americans finally acquire citizenship? Was it by Congressional law, a Constitutional amendment, the president? , a Supreme Court decision? Not really an answer. There was an assortment of approaches before Congress finally tried to get an answer for all Native peoples.
The journey by Native Americans on the road to citizenship was marked by travels through a maze of U. S. atred, bigotry and metaphorical hurdles. Federal Indian policies that left the Indian nations exhausted and nearly extinct by the time they were given citizenship. And it was another 20 years before they had the right to vote throughout the U. S. From 1778 to 1871, the U. S. federal government tried to resolve its relationship with the various Native tribes by negotiating treaties. In each of hundreds of treaties that were negotiated, these were formal agreements between two sovereign nations.
So Native American people were citizens of their tribe, living within the boundaries of the U. S. The treaties were negotiated by the executive branch on behalf of the president and ratified by the U. S. Senate. The Native tribes would give up their rights to hunt and live on huge pieces of land that they had inhabited in exchange for trade goods, annuity payments, and assurances that no further demands would be made on them. Most often, part of the land would be “reserved” exclusively for the tribe’s use. The obvious effect of the treaty process was to speed the transfer of Indian land to white settlers.
As early as 1803, Thomas Jefferson recognized that the American people wanted land and that it might be difficult to get the land needed as long as Native people continued their current lifestyles. In Jefferson’s Confidential letter to Congress asking for funds to explore the new territory, he wrote: “The Indian tribes residing within the limits of the U. S. have for a considerable time been growing more & more uneasy at the constant diminution of the territory they occupy, altho’ affected by their own voluntary sales…
In order peaceably to counteract this policy of theirs, and to provide an extension of territory which the rapid increase of our numbers will call for, two measures are deemed expedient. First, to encourage them to abandon hunting, to apply to the raising stock, to agriculture and domestic manufacture, and thereby prove to themselves that less land & labor will maintain them in this, better than in their former mode of living. The extensive forests necessary in the hunting life will then become useless, & they will see an advantage in exchanging them for the means of improving their farms, & of increasing their domestic comforts.
Secondly to multiply trading houses among them & place within their reach those things which will contribute more to their domestic comfort then the profession of extensive, but uncultivated wilds, experience & reflection will develop to them the wisdom of exchanging what they can spare & we want, for what we can spare and they want. ” Under the reservation system, American Indians kept their citizenship in their sovereign tribes, but life was harder than it had been.
The reservations were devised to encourage the Indians to live within clearly defined zones, and the U. S. promised to provide food, goods, and money and to protect them from attack by other tribes and white settlers. The reservation policy also reflected the views of some of the educators and protestant missionaries that forcing the Indians to live in a confined space with little opportunity for nomadic hunting would make it easier to “civilize the savages. ” Native Indians, after 1830, found themselves being confined to reservations. But, even the Indian Territory was not safe from white settlers.
In 1854, the Federal Government abolished the northern half of Indian Territory and established the Kansas and Nebraska Territories, which were immediately opened up to white settlement. Many of the tribes occupying the land ended up on vastly reduced reservations. The reservation system proved a disaster for the Indians as the government failed to keep its promises. The nomadic tribes were unable to follow the buffalo, and conflict among the tribes increased, rather than decreased, as the tribes competed with each other for dwindling resources.
By 1871, the federal government stopped signing treaties with Native Americans and replaced the treaty system with a law giving individual Indians ownership of land that had been tribal property. This “Indian Homestead Act”, official known as the Dawes Act, was a way for some Indians to become U. S. citizens. There were two reasons why the treaty system was abandoned: First, white settlers needed more and more land, and the fact that tribes were treated as separate nations with separate citizens made it more difficult to take land from them and “assimilate” them into the general population.
Assimilation had become the new ideal. The goal was to absorb the tribes into the European-American culture and make Native people more like mainstream Americans. Second, the House of Representatives was angry that they did not have a voice in these policies. Under the Constitution, treaties are ratified by the U. S. Senate, not the House, even though the House has to appropriate the money to pay for them. So Congress passed a compromise bill in 1871 that, in effect, brought an end to the treaty system.
The bill contained the following language buried in an appropriations law for the Yankton Indians: “PROVIDED, That hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty. . . ” The end of the treaties meant the end of treating tribes as sovereign nations. Attempts were made to undermine the power of the tribal leaders and the tribal justice systems.
Tribal bonds were viewed as an obstacle to federal attempts to assimilate the Indian into white society. Assimilation of the American Indians would become the basis for much of the government policy toward the Native American from the 1880s to the 1930s. “It has become the settled policy of the Government to break up reservations, destroy tribal relations, settle Indians upon their own homesteads, incorporate them into the national life, and deal with them not as nations or tribes or bands, but as individual citizens. (Morgan, 1890. )
This set the stage for the passage by Congress of the General Allotment Act (the Dawes Severalty Act) of 1887. Congressman Henry Dawes had great faith in the civilizing power of private property. He said that to be civilized was to “wear civilized clothes … cultivate the ground, live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school, drink whiskey [and] own property. ” This act was designed to turn Indians into farmers, in the hopes they would become more like mainstream America.
The federal government divided communal tribal lands into 160-acre parcels — known as allotments — and gave them to individual tribal members. The U. S. Government would then hold the land allotted to individual Indians in trust for a period of 25 years so that the Indian would not sell the land and return to the reservation and/or be swindled out of it by scheming white men. The Act went on to offer Indians the benefits of U. S. citizenship — if they took an allotment, lived separate from the tribe and became “civilized.
“And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and is entitled to all the rights, privileges and immunities of such citizens… ” (Dawes Act).