So, on June 2, 1924, all American Indians became citizens of the U.S.


English colonists, and then citizens of the new United States of America, regarded Native Americans as foreign groups, people of other lands. It’s part of a history of bad relations and bad faith between peoples on this continent that we gloss over with the good relations and good faith.

The whole story is important.  It’s been told, and told well, at the Library of Congress:

On June 2, 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. The right to vote, however, was governed by state law; until 1957, some states barred Native Americans from voting. In a WPA interview from the 1930s, Henry Mitchell describes the attitude toward Native Americans in Maine, one of the last states to comply with the Indian Citizenship Act:

One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the city hall about voting. I don’t know just what position that official had over there, but he said to the Indian, ‘We don’t want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.

‘”The Life of Henry Mitchell,”
Old Town, Maine,
Robert Grady, interviewer,
circa 1938-1939.
American Life Histories, 1936-1940

Native Americans During Mathematics Class

Native Americans During Mathematics Class at Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Native Americans During Mathematics Class, (detail)
Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania,
Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer, 1903.
Prints and Photographs Division

Previously, the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) had shaped U.S. policy towards Native Americans. In accordance with its terms, and hoping to turn Indians into farmers, the federal government redistributed tribal lands to heads of families in 160-acre allotments. Unclaimed or “surplus” land was sold, and the proceeds used to establish Indian schools where Native-American children learned reading, writing, and the domestic and social systems of white America. By 1932, the sale of both unclaimed land and allotted acreage resulted in the loss of two-thirds of the 138 million acres that Native Americans had held prior to the Dawes Act.

In addition to the extension of voting rights to Native Americans, the Secretary of the Interior commission created the Meriam Commission to assess the impact of the Dawes Act. Completed in 1928, the Meriam Report described how government policy oppressed Native Americans and destroyed their culture and society.

The poverty and exploitation resulting from the paternalistic Dawes Act spurred passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. This legislation promoted Native-American autonomy by prohibiting allotment of tribal lands, returning some surplus land, and urging tribes to engage in active self-government. Rather than imposing the legislation on Native Americans, individual tribes were allowed to accept or reject the Indian Reorganization Act. From 1934 to 1953, the U.S. government invested in the development of infrastructure, health care, and education, and the quality of life on Indian lands improved. With the aid of federal courts and the government, over two million acres of land were returned to various tribes.

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest

Salish man
Salish Man Named Paul Challae and Small Child,
Montana,
date unknown.

Salish couple

Salish Man and Woman Sitting on Rocks, Montana (?) (date unknown.)

Salish Man and Woman Sitting on Rocks,
Montana [?],
date unknown. 

Salish Woman and Children

Salish Woman and Children

Salish Woman and Children,
St. Ignatius Mission, Montana.
1924.

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to Native Americans of two cultural areas of the Pacific Northwest. Many aspects of life and work — including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment, are illustrated in this collection drawn from the extensive holdings of the University of Washington Libraries, the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

And doesn’t that just frost the tar out of the birthers?  Herbert Hoover just five years later chose Charles Curtis to be  his vice presidential candidate, and Curtis served for four years.  Curtis, born in the Kansas Territory before it was a state, came from Native American ancestry.

3 Responses to So, on June 2, 1924, all American Indians became citizens of the U.S.

  1. Makes you wonder, really. At present, the concept of the natural-born citizen is by and large predicated upon the concept of citizenship at birth rather than native citizenship at birth; however, there is a plausible argument (not one that I agree with, however) that NBC status should assume a foundation of native citizenship. Given the de jure status of tribes as quasi-sovereign nations, there’s the possibility that someone could at least throw a spanner in the works for someone born under the (largely theoretical) sovereignty of a Native American tribe in a bid for the Presidency.

    I don’t think it likely, and my thoughts on the matter are that in the American legal idiom that NBC status is drawn around citizenship at birth, whether via ius soli or statute conferring it, but it seems an interesting thought exercise.

    Like

  2. Elf Eye says:

    So within my lifetime, it was possible for a Native American to be denied the right to vote. I had no idea.

    Like

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