Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

June 29, 1988

Allotment of Indian Lands

he following is an excerpt taken from A History of Indian Policy,  by S. Lyman Tyler, published in 1973 by the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Senator Pendleton of Ohio had very dramatically stated the position of the Indian during the debate on allotment of Indian lands as early as 1881:

“Now, Mr. President, I do not believe, and I say it frankly, that any bill can be framed on this subject of Indian control which is entirely consistent, and entirely satisfactory; and the reason is a very simple one.  There are difficulties surrounding this subject which are inherent and artificial, and in both aspects they are very great.  They arise from the fact that our constitutions and our laws were passed for the control and the government of the white citizens of the country and not for these Indian tribes; they arise from the fact that when those constitutions and laws were passed these Indians were treated as quasi-foreign nations; that treaties were made with them; that a vast territory was set apart for them in which they could indulge in their natural habits; habits entailed upon them by centuries of practice, indulge in the chase, in fishing, and in war among themselves [sic].  We had no connection with them except by passage of the non-intercourse law, to prevent the intrusion of our own citizens among them.  As long as they confined themselves to their reservation—I mean the vast expanse of territory which was known under the name of Indian Territory, or a few years ago as the unorganized territory of the United States—they might pursue the chase, they might purse fishing, they might make war among themselves, they might commit barbarities and wrongs among themselves and we take no notice; and it was only here and there by a sporadic and ineffectual attempt at teaching them the arts of civilized life that we had any connection with them except when they intruded upon our territory and marauded upon our citizens.  It was easy enough comparatively to deal with a class of men whom we recognized as nations, with whom we made treaties, whom we segregated from our citizens, and to whom we assigned that vast expanse of western territory.  But that condition of things has entirely changed; the times have passed; the conditions of this government and those governments (if I may call the Indian tribes such) have entirely changed.  Our villages now dot their prairies; our cities are built upon their plains; our miners climb their mountains and seek the recesses of their gulches; our telegraphs and railroads and post offices penetrate their country in every direction; their forests are cleared and their prairies are plowed and their wildernesses are opened up.  The Indians cannot hunt or fish.  They must either change their mode of life or they must die.  That is the alternative presented.  There is none other.  We may regret it, we may wish it were otherwise, our sentiments of humanity may be shocked by the alternative, but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that is the alternative, and that these Indians must either change their modes of life or they will be exterminated.  I say, Mr. President, in order that they may change their modes of life, we must change our policy; we must give them, and we must stimulate within them to the very largest degree, the idea of home, of family, and of property.  These are the very anchorages of civilization; the commencement of the dawning of these ideas in the mind is the commencement of the civilization of any race, and these Indians are no exception  It must be our part to seek to foster and to encourage within them this trinity upon which all civilization depends—family, home, property.”

D’Arcy McNickle’s comment on Senator Pendleton’s remarks is a classic:

“In the heat of such a discussion, it would not have occurred to any of the debaters to inquire of the Indians what ideas they had of home, of family, and of property.  It would have been assumed, in any case, that the ideas, whatever they were, were without merit since they were Indian.”

In Theodore Roosevelt’s message to Congress, December 8, 1901, we find the same urgency as expressed by Senator Pendleton in 1881:

“In my judgement the time has arrived when we should definitely make up our minds to recognize the Indian as an individual and not as a member of a tribe.  The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass.  It acts directly upon the family and the individual.  Under its provisions some sixty thousand Indians have already become citizens of the United States. We should not break up the tribal funds, doing for them what allotment does for the tribal lands; that is, they should be divided into individual holdings.”

In 1906 the Burke Act was passed by the Congress to amend some of the features of the General Allotment Act.  Although the trust period was continued as 25 years, broad discretionary powers were given to the Secretary of the Interior to release particular Indian allottees from Federal supervision ahead of schedule by a declaration of competence, but when the “new declaration of policy” was promulgated by Commissioner Sells such caution was no longer practiced.

The Clapp Amendment which related to the White Earth Chippewa [sic] of Minnesota, passed by Congress in 1906, in effect allowed any mixed-blood White Earth Chippewa [sic] to transform his trust patent into a patent in fee and freed him from Government supervision.  The Individual Indians could then dispose of their allotments as they saw fit.  As a result, most of the valuable white pine timber lands held by these Indians were sold to lumber interests at unfair and inadequate prices.

This action, referred to as the “White Earth Scandal,” is one of the few cases where the Congress intervened in the activities of the Department of the Interior and took supervision of Indian property, with the result that Indian title was too soon lost.  The loss of this valuable property which followed this Congressional action is one of the back spots in the administration of Indian affairs.

Under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt form 1905 to 1909, there was an attempt to secure title to certain forest lands held by various ... tribes in the name of conservation.  Eight Executive Orders were signed two days before the end of his term of office that sought to have two and a half million acres of Indian reservation forest land included in respective national forests.  It was later determined that the action taken by President roosevelt was beyond the power of the Executive.  The lands were, therefore, returned to their former status.  [Our Indian forests were stolen by the U.S. and the State of Minnesota anyway.  Part of this stolen land is the land that the White Earth Settlement Act “gives” to White Earth Indians.]

Francis Blake, Jr.

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