This Day in History 1887: A Major Assault on Native Land and Lifeways

On this day in history, February 8, 1887, the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Act, perhaps the most significant single piece of legislation to force American Indians to assimilate to western culture. Also known as the General Allotment Act, this law had at least two major lines of attack.

First, it enforced the concept of private land ownership. Tribes held their lands in common. The Dawes Act broke reservation lands into smaller tracts of 40 acres to 160 acres and allotted it to individuals and families.

Second, tribes lost massive amounts of land under the Dawes act, lands that were opened for white settlement. The Indian Land Tenure Foundation explains:

If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount needed for allotment, the federal government could negotiate to purchase the land from the tribes and sell it to non-Indian settlers. As a result, 60 million acres were either ceded outright or sold to the government for non-Indian homesteaders and corporations as “surplus lands.”

For comparison, the land loss was larger than the state of Minnesota (which is the 12th largest state in the nation, and has approximately 56 million acres of land and water.) Some estimates of Native land loss are higher. An Indian Country Today 2012 article headlined: The Dawes Act Started the U.S. Land-Grab of Native Territory put the loss at 90 million acres, or two-thirds of all Native-held lands prior to the Dawes Act.

The article said:

The Dawes Act was one of the most effective implementations of the colonial and imperialist strategy against Indigenous Peoples of divide-and-conquer—a strategy that combines political, military and economic tactics to gain power over another power by breaking it up into individual units that are powerless to resist domination. It was also an act of lawfare—a relatively new term for an old phenomenon: warfare by legal means. It makes “what was illegal legal,” according to Philip Giraldi, a writer and former CIA military intelligence officer.

TPT offered the following nugget about the bill’s author, Congressman Henry Dawes.

[Dawes] once expressed his faith in the civilizing power of private property with the claim 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.”

 

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Relocating Capitol Art Is Not Censorship; This Day in History: Teddy Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address Aims to Undo Tribes

The debate over art in the State Capitol is getting more media traction and one of main arguments used by advocates of the status quo is that moving the art amounts to censorship.

Censorship is an emotionally triggering word, and it gets the juices flowing, but this is not censorship.

The latest media coverage comes from a Dec. 1 John Tevlin column in the StarTribune headlined: With Capitol under renovation, debate begins on which art is appropriate when it reopens. The column opens putting the spotlight on the Anton Gag painting, “The Attack on New Ulm,” part of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

The column starts with a conversation with George Glotzbach, former member of the board of the Brown County Historical Society. Both he and his wife, Sharon, “had ancestors who were ‘inside the barricades’ during the battle with Dakota Indians in 1862 and nearly killed.” Sharon is president of the Wanda Gag House Association (daughter of Anton). Here’s what George had to say:

“I have an agenda on this just like the Indians have an agenda,” said Glotzbach. “This thing hit us like a ton of bricks when we found out that the ‘Attack on New Ulm’s painting was on the hit list. I see this as nothing more and nothing less than censorship … ”

This is not censorship. Those of us pushing to remove some of the art from the Capitol want it in a museum where it can get better interpretation and discussion. The fact is, conversations about the meaning of the art and Minnesota history rarely if ever happen in the Capitol. People are too busy with other agendas. These issues need much more dialogue.

Here are today’s letters to the editor about Tevlin’s column, including one I wrote trying to make the “this-is-not-censorship” point.

This Day in History: Teddy Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Aims at Breaking Up Tribes

On December 3, 1901, Teddy Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech to Congress. It makes reference to the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, which authorized the government to survey community-owned tribal lands and divide it up for individual ownership.

Here is part of Roosevelt’s speech:

In my judgment 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 now break up the tribal funds, doing for them what allotment does for the tribal lands ; that is, they should be divided into individual holdings. … The effort should be steadily to make the Indian work like any other man on his own ground.