I is for Indian Citizenship Act (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - Indian Citizenship - Only in the 1920s did Native american as a group became US citizens. Before, only individuals were granted citizenship

IYou wouldn’t think that Native Americans’ citizenship would be an issue. It was, for many decades and it finally found solution only in the 1920s.

It was generated by the peculiar position Native Americans stood at with regard to the land they inhabited as opposed to any other people living in America. While everyone else arrived to America from someplace else, and so the times and ways they became US citizens depended on the time they and their ancestors had spent in the US, Native Americans were all born in America as were their ancestors. They had actually been there before the United States of American even existed.
563_originalThere was never a question whether or not Native Americans were subject to the US laws: they were. Theirs citizenship, though, was a separate and distinct question. Apparently.

A first attempt at handling the issue appears in the treaty of 1778 between the United States and the Lenni Lenape tribe. It was envisioned here that the different Indian nations could be admitted to the United States the same way other states were. But this solution presented implicit issues the US Government didn’t seem keen to address and was soon abandoned.
In 1868, following the Civil War, the US Government passed the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” It would sound as all Indians were automatically entitled to the US citizenship since they certainly met the requirements.
They weren’t.

Throughout all this time, while Native Americans as a social group remained in a limbo, individuals could gain citizenship for different reasons. One such reason was the General Allotment Act (best known as the Dawes Act), which was passed in 1887.

tumblr_nldsfiFWeQ1u7vgzzo1_500This act destroyed the traditional Indian practice to take care of the land communally, chopped up reservations in little lots and assigned a lot to every single family, appropriating all the land that was left after the allotment. If after twenty years the head of the family had proven himself a competent farmer, he could become owner of that allotment. Citizenship was attached to the allotment, although there was much argument whether the person acquired US citizenship upon accepting the allotment or upon proving himself a competent farmer twenty years after accepting said allotment.

Much argument was further arisen by the participation of many Native Americans to WWI in spite of not being citizens of the US. It was finally in 1924 that the Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act that granted US citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.



Native American Netroots – American Indian Citizenship


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I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

21 Comments on "I is for Indian Citizenship Act (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. Hi. I remember reading about the Dawes Act in school. It was a terrible Act. As I recall, the land allotment grew smaller with each generation. Another interesting post…thanks for sharing.

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    • The Dawes Act was devastating for every Native peoples. It impacted on individuals’ lives, on holding of the land, on traditional life, on families’ actual possibilities for survival.
      It was horrible.

  2. Interesting piece of information. Nice post.
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  3. Land grabbing – invaders have always done it to those who were there before them and it never works out well for the native inhabitants 🙁 . Thank you for the education on this situation, I never realised it took that long for Native Americans to be granted citizenship.
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    • It isn’t something one would think, is it?
      I learned it because of my story. It’s set in 1926 and my two main characters are Native… and they probably don’t even know they are citizens.

  4. I can’t really remember how I’ve heard of this, but I seem to remember that because reservations were “independent” countries within the United States (the proper word for this escapes me at present, sorry!) they didn’t get automatic citizenship. Nonetheless, it was awful, and there are STILL many treaties the U.S. government is not honoring. It’s all very sad.
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    • It wasn’t the reservations, but the nations. Every Indian nation was a soveraing nations, just like any other state, that’s why initially it was envisioned to let them be admitted to the United States as all the others. Apparently then the US decided it was best not to consider the Indian nations like states.

      Still today, some Indian Nations (like for example the Mohawk) have their own national passport.

  5. All of this sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean, they were here first, and a bunch of white people spend decades arguing whether or not they are citizens… One of the many ironies of US history 😀

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    • The thing is, there was never a question they were subject to the US law and so they were supposed to abide to it, (that means they had civil obbligations), why weren’t they entiled to have citizenship? (and so civil rights?).

  6. It’s amazing how Native Americans were exploited, abused, and deprived of their rights by the white man. I’ve been a Native American ally since I was five or six years old, and never understood why U.S. “history” textbooks celebrate the conquerors like Columbus and Cortez, and radically downplay what really happened to the Natives.
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    • Because history is written by the conquerors.
      Fortunaltly, we live in a time were we have access to a moltitude of different sources, so there’s a chance to balance.

  7. One of the things I hate about U.S. history is the total destruction of Native American people–killing them, dividing up their land, undermining their culture. At least Congress gave them citizenship, but it doesn’t really make up for everything else.
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  8. In 2009 (I think the date was, I’m terrible with dates) the Dakota Nation started a memorial ride to commemorate 38 Dakota warriors who were hanged in Mankato in 1862 – still the largest mass execution in the history of the US.
    The ride – which is now repeated evey year – isn’t intended to forget or forgive the wrongs of the past, but rather to heal, so to stop looking bahind and start looking ahead, to what good can be built on everyone’s experience.
    I think this is a beautiful message.

    The film that decuments the first ride was issued in 2012 and it’s beautiful. Really moving

  9. Huh. That’s evil. 🙁
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  10. It was after all the least we could do. Literally.
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  11. I somewhat remember reading about this act in school. But it is terrible how unjustly Native Americans have been treated in this country.
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  12. Syrian Americans did not obtain citizenship until 1924, and Chinese Americas 1943. People say that racism no longer exists in America, but I feel this is dismissing the struggles many people went through. Also, as a teen I visited parts of the country where people said things that shocked me. And that was in the 1990’s. It was not everyone, but there were some older people who were not very accepting of others.

    • What I find buffling is that in the US different ethnicities got citizenship at different time. Doesn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t there be just the one law that grants citizenship to all people who matches the requirements?

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