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1. The Dawes Act: How Congress tried to destroy Indian reservations

By Stephen Pevar

Chiefs at Verde Reservation, Arizona. Source: NYPL Labs Stereogranimator.

How would you feel if the government confiscated your land, sold it to someone else, and tried to force you to change your way of life, all the while telling you it’s for your own good? That’s what Congress did to Indian tribes 125 years ago today, with devastating results, when it passed the Dawes Act.

During the 1800s, white settlers moved west by the tens of thousands, and the US cavalry went with them, battling Indian tribes along the way. One by one, tribes were forced to relinquish their homelands (on which they had lived for centuries) and relocate to reservations, often hundreds of miles away. By the late 1800s, some three hundred reservations had been created.

The purpose of the reservation system was, for the most part, to remove land from the Indians and to separate the Indians from the settlers. Reservations were usually created on lands not (yet) coveted by non-Indians. By the late 1800s, however, settlers were nearly everywhere, and Congress needed to develop a new strategy to prevent further bloodshed.

The government decided that instead of separating Indians from white society, Indians should be assimilated into white society. Assimilation of the Indians and the destruction of their reservations became the new federal goal.

Two very different social forces helped shaped this new policy: greed and humanitarianism. Many whites wanted Indian land and knew that they would have an easier time obtaining it if Indian tribes disappeared. This greed prompted Congress to pass the Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act, in February 1887. The Dawes Act was also favored by many non-Indian social reformers who were aware that Indians were suffering unmercifully under the government’s existing reservation policies, and they sincerely believed that the best way to help Indians overcome their plight and their poverty was by encouraging assimilation. Although their motives differed, both groups pressured Congress to pass the Dawes Act. The objectives of the Act, as the US Supreme Court has noted, “were simple and clear cut: to extinguish tribal sovereignty, erase reservation boundaries, and force the assimilation of Indians into the society at large.” Indian tribes had no say in the matter and were not even consulted.

Most Indian tribes had no concept of private land ownership. Rather, land was communally owned and everyone worked together to gather what they could from the land and shared its bounty. In order to compel assimilation of the Indians, a scheme was developed that would undermine Indian life and culture at its core: individual Indians would be forced to own land for private use. Indians would be converted into capitalists.

To accomplish the new policy of assimilation, the Dawes Act authorized the President of the United States to divide communally-held tribal lands into separate parcels (“allotments”). Each tribal member was to be assigned an allotment and, after a twenty-five-year “trust” period, would be issued a deed to it, allowing the owner to sell it. Once the allotments were issued, the remaining tribal land (the “surplus” land) would be sold to non-Indian farmers and ranchers. Congress hoped that by allowing non-Indians to live on Indian reservations, the goals of the settlers and those of the humanitarian social reformers could both be satisfied: land would become available for non-In

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2. Thinking Space by Savita Kalhan


In the middle of May I received a call from the local allotment secretary. A space had come up and I was next on the waiting list. Did I still want one? My first reaction was to say: No thank you. I really don’t have time for it anymore.



This past year I’ve had very little spare time because I discovered the internet, bloggers and blogging, twitter and face book, and saw with open-mouthed shock exactly what I should have been doing even before my book had come out. I had absolutely no idea. I had purposefully never worked on a computer that was hooked up to the internet, and I suddenly realised what a mistake it had been.

I immediately hooked my laptop up to the internet, discovered the SAS in January 2010 and began digging my head out of the sand.

I hurled myself into the fray and bloggers started reviewing my book, not put off by the fact that it had been out for a long while, and I was interviewed so many times I think every morsel of my life, likes and dislikes, even down to my favourite sweets when I was a kid, is on the internet, which is just a little bit scary! But I carried on at break-neck speed, giving The Long Weekend my all.

I got fed up of dragging the laptop around everywhere and got myself an iPhone – it soon became my co-conspirator, making it easy for me never to miss anything...and never to switch off. Ever. Spare time didn’t exist anymore because I had to keep abreast of everything, comment on everything, make myself known as a children’s writer. It became a habit, one that I was finding hard to wean myself off. After the two blog tours, which did require lots of publicising etc, were over, I was still on the internet, afraid that I might miss something important.

Was it worth it? Yes. Definitely. But I lost a sense of balance.

So when the allotment secretary rang me, no is not what actually came out of my mouth. I’ve been on the waiting list for a few years now and if I didn’t take up the offer now, who knew when another space might come up? This one came up because a 93 year old had decided that it was getting a bit too much for him to manage! The allotments are next to the woods behind my house, less than a minute away...

So I said yes, I’d love it, thank you!



I’ve worked my bit of land for the past few weeks, preparing it for sowing all the wonderful veg and salad we eat the most. I inherited blackcurrant, redcurrant and raspberry bushes and only needed to add some strawberries to the fruit collection. As I’ve been working down there, I’ve realised that I cannot hear my phone ringing, I’ve never once checked my emails, and the only tweeting going on is that of the birds, although I think the parakeets and woodpeckers turn their noses up at tweeting. And whether it’s for half an h

16 Comments on Thinking Space by Savita Kalhan, last added: 5/17/2011
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