Archive for the ‘Dawes Act’ Category

Indian Land Tenure Foundation ( marked the 125-year anniversary of the Dawes Act (General Allotment Act of 1887) by producing this “Matter of Honor” video you can view on the organization’s YouTube channel.

Courtesy of Indian Land Tenure Foundation

It’s a topic that incites much to think about these days, as the Cobell settlement is disputed in courts.

ILTF has an entire page dedicated to lands issue debates, including checker boarding, sacred sites, land management and legal and legislative issues.

Here’s the spot where ILTF explains how it’s helping to reverse the negative effects of the Dawes Act.

Jenna Cederberg

Just catching up with this interesting story from a couple of days ago by Clifton Adcock of the Tulsa (Okla.) World:

    (Photo from

    (Photo from

    A federal lawsuit filed in Tulsa by the Cherokee Nation seeking a declaration that the descendants of freedmen are not entitled to membership in the tribe has been ordered transferred to Washington, D.C., where a similar lawsuit is pending against tribal leaders and the federal government.

    The Cherokee Nation filed its suit last year against the U.S. Department of the Interior and five descendants of freedmen — former slaves that had been owned by tribal members. The freedmens’ descendants had obtained tribal membership before Cherokees voted in 2007 to restrict Cherokee citizenship by excluding people whose ancestors were not listed on the Dawes Rolls as having a percentage of American Indian blood.

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy gets the case. He’s also hearing a lawsuit brought in 2003 by Marilyn Vann, who heads Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association. That case names Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith and the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“We eagerly await the day when all descendants of Dawes-enrolled Cherokee freedmen can register/reregister as Cherokee Nation tribal members, vote and run for tribal political office, as promised our ancestors by the U.S. government and tribal officials in 1866,” says Vann.

But Cherokee Attorney General Diane Hammons tells Adcock, “The record clearly shows that the federal government itself has extinguished any rights non-Indian freedmen descendants had under the treaty.”

Gwen Florio

Last week, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., sent a letter to the editor of the Casper Star Tribune (see previous post, here) explaining an amendment he put forward to the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement.

That change would have limited attorneys’ fees to $50 million in the 14-year lawsuit designed to partially compensate hundreds of thousands of Indian people for royalties on their lands due them from the federal government. Backers of the settlement, led by lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, objected, saying any changes could kill the entire settlement. Cobell responded with her own letter, here, and run in full below.


Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

A lot has happened since 1887 when Sen. Henry Dawes of Massachusetts got Congress to pass a law to break up Indian lands across the country.

Congress then did not believe Indians could manage their lands or their money, leading to creation of the infamous Indian Trust system.

It was a failure from the day it began operation 123 years ago.

But one lawmaker from Wyoming hasn’t got the word that Indians can do a better job of managing their lands and government than Uncle Sam.

Sen. John Barrasso (AP photo)

Sen. John Barrasso (AP photo)

I’m talking about Sen. John Barrasso. He wants to kill the settlement of our 14-year lawsuit over the government’s mismanagement of our lands and our money.

The trouble is he doesn’t trust the nation’s Native Americans any more than Sen. Dawes.

We have traveled across Indian Country and we have found that Indians overwhelmingly want our settlement with the government approved — as is.

Sen. Barrasso seems determined to limit the Indian’s lawyers to less than what lawyers in any other class action lawsuit would be allowed for resolving the monumental mess that the Indian Trust has become.

His proposed amendment would kill the settlement, which allows only a simple up-or-down vote by Congress.

Furthermore, this is not a case, as his June 30 letter to the Star-Tribune (“Senator defends amendment”) seems to suggest, of protecting taxpayer money.

This dispute is all about money that belongs to individual Indians — and has since 1887.

Funds for the settlement would come from the government’s long-established settlement fund. It does not require a special appropriation.

Under the settlement, Native Americans would get a small portion of their funds that the government lost. Nothing will be offered to them if the senator’s amendment is added.

It’s time for Sen. Barrasso to realize most Native Americans have got it right.

ELOUISE COBELL, Browning, Mont.
Lead plaintiff, Cobell class action lawsuit
Member, Blackfeet Nation

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The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have decided not to participate in a centennial commemoration of homesteading on their reservation.

The issue of commemoration was always a touchy one – the U.S. government opened the reservation in western Montana to nontribal homesteaders in 1910 after the death of Chief Charlo, who had long oppposed it.

Nontribal people quickly snapped up homesteads on Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribal territory, as this Missoulian story by Vince Devlin recounts.

More than a year ago, Lois Hart, head of the Polson Flathead Historical Museum, sought to involve the tribes in the commemoration.

“I told them it would be called a commemoration, because it’s not a celebration,” she said back then. “But I also said we would do nothing unless they wanted to be a full partner.”

As Devlin writes:

    With the allotment and homesteading, the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille people quickly became a minority on their own reservation and have remained such for a century now.

    Some residents, of course – both tribal and nontribal – can trace some or all of their roots here back to the first homesteaders. While it pales in comparison to the thousands of years that Indians were here before the United States was formed, the last 100 years remains a considerable chunk of U.S. history, and an even bigger chunk of the state’s. Montana was just 21 years old when the reservation was opened to homesteading.

    “It’s a complicated history,” [CSKT spokesman Rob] McDonald said, “and it’s further complicated when small factions pop up and want to add their own spin to it.”

Hart says the tribes’ decision will significantly change the commemoriation.

Gwen Florio

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First Nations stage huge protests in Canada against sales tax
Tribes blocked the Trans-Canada Highway in three places, and First Nations members also rallied in Toronto to protest the “Harmonized Sales Tax,” saying that one nation – in this case, Canada – has no right to tax another, according to the NewsWire. “Today is just the beginning,” says Grand Chief Randall Phillips of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, representing eight First Nation communities across Ontario. “We have put the Federal and Provincial governments on notice that we are prepared to fight the imposition of the HST on First Nations.”

The sacred peak, Opahata I, is also known as Harney Peak (Defenders of the Black Hills photo)

The sacred peak, Opahata I, is also known as Harney Peak (Defenders of the Black Hills photo)

Support for sacred Black Hills site as national monument
The group calling itself Defenders of the Black Hills has endorsed the designation of the roughly 40,000 acres of National Forest System lands as the Okawita Paha National Monument, Indian Country Today reports here.

Within the hills, the sacred peak, Opahata I, also known as Harney Peak, is considered the “center of all that is” to many Native American nation. The surrounding Okawita Paha area, literally “Gathering Place,” also is considered sacred, the newspaper writes. The monument – where activities such as logging and prescribed burns would be off-limits – would be jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Great Sioux Nation.

Morales’ re-election means more pro-indigenous policies in Bolivia
Here’s an interesting story from Bolivia on the re-election of Evo Morales to the presidency. The result is likely to be more pro-indigenous policies in Bolivia, where Morales would not have won without strong support from the country’s indigenous people.

Dawes Rolls prove great tool for Native family research

Whatever you may think about the Dawes Rolls – created to allocate (vastly reduced) amounts of land to tribes – they’ve turned out to be a huge help to people doing geneaological research, according to the Terre Haute (Ind.) Tribune Star, here.

Top aide to Navajo president asked to resign
Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly has asked Patrick Sandoval, chief of staff to President Joe Shirley Jr., to resign, the Navajo Times reports here. Shirley, under investigation in connection failed business dealings, has been on administrative leave for six weeks.

Gwen Florio