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Dawes Commission

February 28, 2001

Historian's Notes

The post-1492 life of Native Americans has been a constant struggle against the cultural invasion of Europeans. The battle, in my opinion, ended in 1893 when the Dawes Commission finally began the work of assigning individual plots of land to Native Americans, removing from the tribes the common land that was their custom. With this implementation came the final and complete victory for whites over Native Americans. No longer holding land in common, each roll member was assigned a certain number of acres and the remainder given over to the U.S. Government for settlement by whites. With the coming of the Dawes Commission in 1893, Indian Territory was no longer.

Resources

For information on the Dawes Commission any standard Oklahoma history text or U.S. history text would be of use.

The Angie Debo Papers are held at OSU's Special Collections & University Archives.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I' Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.

The event that took place in this week of 1893 can arguably be called one of the most important occurrences in the known history of what is now Oklahoma. It was in this week that action by the President and Congress created a commission to effectively destroy what little remained of the traditional way of life for Native Americans in Indian Territory. Headed by Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, the Dawes Commission as it came to be known, was given the task of breaking up all of the remaining tribal land holdings in Indian Territory in to individual allotments. The western half of the state had already been separated into the independent Oklahoma Territory, and the large block of eastern land, Indian Territory, was according to white politicians standing in the way of Oklahoma statehood.

The Dawes Commission was to enter Indian Territory evaluate land quality and amounts held by individual tribes and then dole out allotments to each member. The battle for allotment had been going on for at least fifty years. Large common land holdings was, if anything, a symbol of independence and tradition for the tribes, and the destruction of that for all intents and purposes truly meant the destruction of thousands of years of history and heritage.

Under the system as configured by Congress, the Indians were made citizens of the United States, the tribal governments were stripped of their power and the former tribal citizens and their white neighbors were placed under federal law and federal courts. The tribal schools were taken over by United States officials, and all but the boarding schools were opened to white children. Towns in Indian Territory were platted, the lots sold and the money placed to the credit of the tribe. After individual lots were distributed and town plats sold off, any remaining land was offered at public auction with the money received going to the corresponding tribes. Under the Commission the size of allotment received by each Native American varied according to the population of the tribe and the amount of land held by that tribe. For example, a Cherokee share was 110 acres of land that had been graded “average” by the Commission, while Choctaws and Chickasaws received an average of 320 acres of average land. The liquidation of tribal affairs begun this week in 1893 was not entirely complete by 1906, but enough headway had been made for the territory to begin the transformation into statehood.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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