Repercussions of the Dawes Act: Leasing, citizenship and jurisdiction on the Omaha and Winnebago Reservations, 1887-1896
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Michael L. Tate
The General Allotment Act, or Dawes Severalty Act, passed in 1887, had terrible repercussions for the Native American. Although the negative effects of the Act were widespread across the entire country, the separate impacts on individual reservations varied. On the Omaha and Winnebago Reservations in northeastern Nebraska, the Indians faced an entirely new range of problems after allotment, problems which continue to complicate the lives of residents even today. Whites not only purchased “surplus” lands, but also sought to appropriate the allotted land through dubious leasing schemes. The citizenship clause in the Dawes Act was particularly perplexing. Ostensibly, the Act granted citizenship to allotted Indians and placed them under the protection of the laws of the state in which they resided, while the United States Government retained title to the land held in trust. The difficulty stemmed from the ambiguous new status of the allotted Indian. Did the citizenship clause necessarily sever the existing tribal relationship between the tribes and the federal government? Did jurisdiction over the Indians now fall within state domain, or did it remain under the federal government? Advocates of free-leasing between whites and Indians on the reservations claimed it was the former, while the Indian Office clung to the latter interpretation. In the first few years immediately following the passage of the Act, the Indian Bureau proved agonizingly slow in response to the inquiries of its agents regarding the matter. Eager whites were not so hesitant and, by the time the Indian Office had issued its official stance on leasing, whites were already in possession of much of the allotted land. The ambiguous citizenship clause in the Dawes Act had provided the means for unscrupulous whites to take full advantage of the Indians. For its part, the Indian Office was not completely unaware o f what had happened. Indeed, when a new agent arrived in the summer of 1893, the Commissioner’s instructions to him were clear - root out and destroy the pervasive system of illegal leasing and reassert agency supervision over the tribes. This study traces the origins of .the leasing problems on the Omaha and Winnebago Reservations following the Dawes Act and reconstructs the confrontation that ensued between the agent and the free-leasing factions. In the process, it illustrates not only another dark chapter in Indian-white relations in this country, but also demonstrates the need for caution in the appraisal of the roles and reputations of the Indian agents.
Krezenski, Matthew J., "Repercussions of the Dawes Act: Leasing, citizenship and jurisdiction on the Omaha and Winnebago Reservations, 1887-1896" (2001). Student Work. 504.
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A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 2001, Matthew J. Krezenski