20 Apr 2022


How did the U.S. use land ownership to attempt to assimilate the Indians?

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It is a bad feeling for someone to take your land, sell it to someone else, and for this same person to then ask you to change your ways of living, claiming that only in this way would you be able to survive the future. According to Pevar (2012), this is what the Dawes Act did when it was passed by Congress in February of 1887, speaking from an American Indian point of view.

Considering the Dawes Act, the United States government could then be said to have used land ownership in an attempt to assimilate the Indians. First, thanks to the aforementioned act, the Indian tribes were thrown out of their lands and made to relocate to the reservations (Shipek, 1987) . Reservations were places in which white settlers had not yet settled. However, in the end, there were too many reservations such that, the American government decided to have the Indians assimilated into the white American society instead of continuing to have the two racial groups separated. The Dawes act thus authorized the President of the United States to divide the communally-owned pieces of American Indian land into portions for further allotment. These portions were then given to each member of the Indian community or tribe, who would then receive a title deed for the same in a period of twenty-five years (Pevar, 2012). The issuance of title deeds would allow the involved Indians to sell off their lands, to their non-Indian counterparts with whom they would now be forced to live, exchanging cultures. After the above mentioned allotments had been given, the remaining land was sold to non-Indians who were farmers and ranchers.

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The goal was to have Indians live among the non-Indians in their private lands and hence have them copy such lifestyles as that of farming and ranching as practiced by the non-Indians (Nabokov, 1992). Americans thought that through this aspect of private ownership of land, Indians would become capitalists, the tribes would finally dissolve and Indians would be absorbed into the larger community of white settlers.

The aspect of having Indians borrowing the farming and ranching culture, however did not work. It was to assist Indians overcome poverty, but most of the allotments were unfavorable for agriculture (Pevar, 2012). For the few that were suitable for agriculture, Indians did not have the resources like cattle and seeds, which they would use on their farms. The Indians also did not want to become farmers since they considered such activity as loathsome.

The Dawes Act had a great effect on the tribal life of the Indians. Cultures and traditions were lost as an after-effect of the loss of land and separation. A number of native languages were lost since knowledgeable people cannot be traced to explain about the languages. Another reason could be that some of the languages became idle and forgotten (Pevar, 2012) . The Miami language is an example of a language that was easily assimilated due to the small size of the Miami tribe and intermarriages with the non-Indians.

In conclusion, the Dawes Act made life devastating for Indians. It is something that the Indians would not want to celebrate due to deep wounds it left behind making them loose their identity.


Nabokov, P. (1992). Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the present, 1492-2000. New York: Penguin.

Pevar, S. (2012). The Rights of Indians and Tribes. Oxford University Press, USA.

Shipek, F. C. (1987). Pushed into the Rocks: Southern California Indian Land Tenure: 1769-1986. University of Nebraska Press.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). How did the U.S. use land ownership to attempt to assimilate the Indians?.


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