top of page

Understanding Indigenous Culture in North Dakota Series: Tribal Makeup/Enrollment Part 2: Dawes Act

For what is known as the United States, the US government signed international treaties with various Indigenous tribes to achieve 95% of the current land base along with promised education, health care, food and annuity payments.

Since these signatures, the US Government has tried to blatantly ignore and change the rules to eradicate the requirements of these treaties with the direct impact on reducing the indigenous population. One way to do this is federal involvement in tribal enrollment, those who are deemed “Indian”, and therefore those who receive treaty rights. Sovereignty is based on determining its citizenry. The altering of this began in 1887.

That year, the Dawes Act (also known as the General Allotment Act or the Dawes Severalty Act), was adopted by Congress and passed by United States President Grover Cleveland. The goal was to break up tribal lands, into 160 acre parcels, as to force indigenous families to farm and assimilate them into American white society. Only those who accepted this division of tribal lands were allowed to become United States Citizens. Policymakers believed that owning private property would magically transform the collective values of most Indians and hasten their assimilation when nothing else had succeeded.

In addition, under this act was the blood quantum standard of one-half or more of “Indian blood”. Women were excluded, and so indigenous males would have to document their blood quantum to receive the 160-acre parcels. All other indigenous people were excluded regardless of their standing within a tribe. By requiring blood quantum, this limited the amount of indigenous people that met the genetic requirements to own the 160-acre parcels of land and meet the original overall land base that was recognized by the international treaties. This reduced the collective Indian land base from 138 million acres to 48 million acres in 50 years.

The blood quantum requirement was then used to restrict treaty-based promises of education, health care, food and annuity payments. The devastating impact on indigenous communities (all indigenous women, and those not considered blood quantum certified) was vast.

There have been congressional fixes to land mismanagement of tribal trust assets by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 2010, a class action lawsuit known as Cobell Verse Salazar was settled and the U.S Congress allotted $3.4 billion to be used for a Trust Land Consolidation Fund as well as issue direct payments to class members. It also established a land buy back system for tribes, a National Commission on Indian Trust Reform, individual settlement payments and an Indian Education Scholarship fund. All done as a direct result of the failure of the Dawes Act of 1887.

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

Goal: Students will understand that there is no “generic American Indian” and that each tribe have enrollment requirements.

Step 1 – The Teacher will show the video (see attached link) and provide a list of recognized tribes in the United States. Why The Dawes Act Matters - @MrBettsClass - YouTube

Step 2 – Students will choose one tribe on the list and research the enrollment requirements for that tribe.

Step 3 – Using any art media students will create a poster presentation that includes the following details: location of the tribe, Indigenous Language spoken, number of tribal members, and enrollment requirements.

Step 4 - The teacher will video the students' poster presentations.

· The Dawes Act (U.S. National Park Service) (

· Dawes Act (1887) | National Archives

· The Dawes Act (

17 views0 comments
bottom of page