Native Americans’ Political Autonomy Threatened

1887

United States

Borders Identity & Belonging

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 (also known as the Allotment Act) represented a departure from prior federal Indian policy as it sought to break up Native American lands—and the larger tribal system—rather than promoting the reservation system. The Dawes Act authorized the division of tribal land into individual allotments. Community-owned lands were parceled into 160-acre allotments for each male head of the family. Those who accepted the land, thereby agreeing to live separately from the tribe, were granted U.S. citizenship.

Many First Nations resisted the Allotment Act, viewing it as a devastating colonial assault on their political autonomy and cultural identities. By 1933, Native Americans had lost nearly two-thirds of their 138 million-acre land base. The federal government continued to amend the act and eventually reversed policy in the 1930s with the Indian Reorganization Act, which promoted Native self-government, cultural retention, and reservation life.