'Dawes Act, Allotments and Shareholders -- Who Owns the Land?' by American Indian Genocide Museum
By Steve Melendez, Paiute, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony
President, American Indian Genocide Museum
President Theodore Roosevelt said this concerning The Dawes Act of 1887, which was also known as the Indian Allotment Act, “(allotment) was a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass." The Dawes Act gave a 160-acre allotment of land to each Indian head of the household and what remained of the reservations was sold to white settlers. By 1934, when the allotment policy ended, 60 percent of the Indian land base had been transferred to whites as “surplus." This included 27,000,000 acres in individual allotment sales.
The sentiments of Teddy Roosevelt rise up like a beast from the sea of land hunger throughout American history.
When allotments ended, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 encouraged tribes to draw up constitutions and also encouraged them to form corporations to manage their assets. When the government gets a game plan going they stick to it but in some re-packaged form. Transforming tribes into corporations has been called “termination in disguise” because they move themselves from international laws to state laws. The government knows that united they stand but divided into allotments that can be sold, they fall.
For the Alaska natives, allotments for each head of the household never ended. They never had reservations either. In 1971 the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act divided Alaska into 12 corporate regions. So each Alaska native head of the household already had his 160-acre piece of the pie but he was also made a shareholder in the regional corporation. Recently, the Dingell Act of 2019 allows Alaska Native Viet Nam veterans to also apply for an allotment of “non-mineral” land.
Sasha Ivan Soboleff, the Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, was asked if native corporations can help people with economic mobility. He said, “No, because the business nature of ANCSA (Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971) which is the formation of an economic vehicle, called a profit-making business, is not the way the culture of Southeast Alaska Natives… think, or exist. I barely even recognize (the corporation) except a couple of times a year when they give out one or two hundred dollars. It doesn’t set the standard for making a culture come alive. It doesn’t recognize where you live, the lands that your clans and your family have had for years, where you pick berries or you go fishing, or where you dry the foods that are going to be due, or you have seaweed. It doesn’t do any of that.”
Originally, provisions of The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act allowed the corporations’ land holdings to be sold on the open market starting in 1991 but this was repealed by Congress before any sales took place. It is the corporations that hold the title to the land but the natives cannot sell any except for their own individual allotments. It must have been at this point that people started to realize that this was termination in disguise because it sure looked like the Dawes Act of 1887. It is absolutely amazing how Congress can execute an Indian policy of “yes-you-do-now-you-don’t own land.”
You would think that ownership of the land depended on who had the better title. Who was there first? Not so in the white man’s worldview. When the Dawes Act gave 160-acre allotments and took away 60 million acres, Chief Lone Wolf of the Kiowas went to court -- all the way to the Supreme Court. It was through this Supreme Court decision (Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock) on January 5, 1903, that the U.S. claimed “plenary (absolute) power” over Indian land. Justice White wrote the opinion of the court by first citing Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) as justification for deciding, “…that Congress possessed a paramount power over the property of the Indians." Johnson v. McIntosh is known as the “Doctrine of Discovery." Black’s Law dictionary helpfully printed the definition in plain English in 1991, “Discovery (International law) as the foundation for a claim of national ownership or sovereignty, discovery is the finding of a country, continent, or island previously unknown, or previously known only to its uncivilized inhabitants.”
In other words, the white man owns the land because Columbus discovered it. In a democracy, everyone is supposed to be governed by the same set of laws. In a democracy, you cannot have one set of laws for one group and another set of laws for another group based on the color of their skin. The land title for a white man should have the same meaning as the land title for the Indian. “Indian title” as defined by the white man’s law is: “Claim of Indian tribes of right, because of immemorial occupancy, to occupy certain territory to exclusion of any other Indians … Permissive right of occupancy granted by the federal government to aboriginal possessors of the land; it is mere possession not specifically recognized as ownership and may be extinguished by the federal government at any time.” You know that you are living in a racist colonial system when based on the white man’s Doctrine of Discovery, the Indians do not even own the reservations under their feet. “Indian reservation” is defined as, “A part of the public domain set aside by proper authority for use and occupation of tribe or tribes of Indians … and under superintendence of the government which retains title to the land.”
Soboleff’s nephew, Nathan, has a few shares given to him by his father from a corporation with no oil wells. He said, “I think I received a shareholder check of like $5 before." He went on to say, “Not having some kind of ownership to that land is sad, and a lot of people do have strong feelings about having some kind of ownership, even if it’s not in the modern sense of private ownership … but knowing that it’s still Haa Aani, it’s still our lands, is important. And if you don’t have any of that shared ownership in there, there’s something missing.”
It must be remembered that in Genesis 19:24, God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah solely for homosexuality but also as Ezekiel wrote, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me…”
A sign on an Alaska highway for the Residents of Unit 5a announces: FEDERAL LANDS BEHIND THIS SIGN ARE OPEN TO SUBSISTENCE MOOSE HUNTING UNDER 50 CFR PART 100 UNTIL NOV. 15 OR UNTIL CLOSED BY SPECIAL ORDER, WHICHEVER OCCURS FIRST.