Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Unconquered and Unconquerable: The Dawes Commission

“Unconquered and Unconquerable” by students and staff of The Meek School of Journalism and New Media. See below for a full bio. 

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A display of typical arrows and bells. Photo By Chi Kalu.

The Dawes Act, passed by Congress in 1887, was designed to dismantle tribal land ownership by allotting parcels of reservation land to individual members of tribes. The law changed their legal status from members of tribes to individuals subject to federal law. It dissolved many tribal affiliations, a huge blow to tribal sovereignty.

President Grover Cleveland said it would improve Native Americans’ lives by incorporating them into white culture. It didn’t work out quite that way. As passed, the law did not cover the Five Civilized Tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Muskogee Creek, Seminole).

But after failing to persuade the five tribes to accept allotments, Congress in 1896 gave the Dawes Commission power to enroll tribal members on a list that would serve as final authority on who belonged to which tribe and was therefore eligible for an allotment. The list was called the Dawes Roll, or the “final rolls of the civilized tribes.”

Using powers granted it by the Curtis Act in 1898, the Dawes Commission processed applications from more than 250,000 people and approved more than 101,000 for the final rolls by the time the process closed on March 4, 1907. The rolls remained the definitive source on eligibility for tribal membership.

The commission then surveyed and appraised 19,525,966 acres of tribal land and handed out 15,794,000 acres of allotments, with allotment sizes based on appraised value. Some people received cash instead of land.

The commission put aside 125,427 acres for railroads, town sites, churches, schools and cemeteries. It put aside another 431,080 acres of Chickasaw and Choctaw land with coal and asphalt deposits and 1,278,753 acres of timber land.

The government leased those lands to others and eventually auctioned them off. Another 3,174,988 acres of unallotted land were sold. Overall, the original Dawes Act reduced Native American landholdings from 138 million acres in 1887 to 78 million in 1900 and continued the trend of white settlement on what had been tribal land.

It also funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. The schools tried to destroy family and cultural ties. Children were punished for speaking their own language or following tribal traditions.

The law was abolished in 1934 under President Franklin Roosevelt.

Source: Kent Carter, Oklahoma Historical Society, and History.com


LEFT TO RIGHT: Ariel Cobbert, Mrudvi Bakshi, Taylor Bennett, Lana Ferguson, SECOND ROW: Tori Olker, Josie Slaughter, Kate Harris, Zoe McDonald, Anna McCollum, THIRD ROW: Bill Rose, Chi Kalu, Slade Rand, Mitchell Dowden, Will Crockett. Not pictured: Tori Hosey PHOTO BY THOMAS GRANING
LEFT TO RIGHT: Ariel Cobbert, Mrudvi Bakshi, Taylor Bennett, Lana Ferguson, SECOND ROW: Tori Olker, Josie Slaughter, Kate Harris, Zoe McDonald, Anna McCollum,
THIRD ROW: Bill Rose, Chi Kalu, Slade Rand, Mitchell Dowden, Will Crockett. Not pictured: Tori Hosey PHOTO BY THOMAS GRANING

The Meek School faculty and students published “Unconquered and Unconquerable” online on August 19, 2016, to tell stories of the people and culture of the Chickasaw. The publication is the result of Bill Rose’s depth reporting class taught in the spring. Emily Bowen-Moore, Instructor of Media Design, designed the magazine.

“The reason we did this was because we discovered that many of them had no clue about the rich Indian history of Mississippi,” Rose said. “It was an eye-opening experience for the students. They found out a lot of stuff that Mississippians will be surprised about.”

Print copies are available October 2016.


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