The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a1888uscongdawes


Context of '1888: Congress Grants Citizenship to Native Americans Only if They Give Up Tribal Affiliation'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event 1888: Congress Grants Citizenship to Native Americans Only if They Give Up Tribal Affiliation. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The US Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, giving African-American men, and in theory men of other minorities, the right to vote. The Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Over a century later, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will write, “In addition to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, the Fifteenth Amendment is one of the major tools which enabled African-Americans to more fully participate in democracy.” It will be ratified by the states in 1870. (American Civil Liberties Union 2012; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27 2012)

In Elk v. Wilkins, the US Supreme Court restricts Native American voting rights by denying Native American John Elk the right to vote. According to the Court, Elk cannot vote in his home state of Nebraska because his intention to become a citizen requires approval from the government. Additionally, the Court finds that Elk is not a citizen because he does not “owe allegiance to the United States,” and thusly the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) does not apply to him. (American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

The US Congress passes the Dawes General Allotment Act, which grants US citizenship only to those Native Americans willing to give up their tribal affiliations (see November 3, 1884). The law passes because the federal government wishes to open Native American lands for white settlements, and to coerce Native Americans to assimilate into white American society. Two years later, the Indian Naturalization Act allows Native Americans to apply for citizenship. (American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

The Minnesota Supreme Court denies Native Americans in that state the right to vote. The case, Opsahl v. Johnson, was brought by members of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe. The Court finds that members of the tribe cannot vote in county elections because they have not “yielded obedience and submission to the [Minnesota] laws” (see November 3, 1884 and 1888). (American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

The North Dakota Supreme Court grants the right to vote to 273 Native American members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In the case of Swift v. Leach, the Court rules that the tribesmen have abandoned their tribal affiliation (see 1888) and have “adopted and observed the habits and mode of life of civilized people.” (American Civil Liberties Union 2012)

President Calvin Coolidge stands with four Osage Indians after he signs the Indian Citizenship Act into law.President Calvin Coolidge stands with four Osage Indians after he signs the Indian Citizenship Act into law. [Source: Library of Congress]Congress passes the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which makes all non-citizen Native Americans born within the US citizens, thus granting them the right to vote. It will be signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge. Before the act takes effect, Native Americans had an unusual status under the law. Some had acquired citizenship by marrying white males, others received citizenship through military service, allotments, or through special treaties or statutes (see May 26, 1920). The act was less of a response to Native Americans petitioning for citizenship than an effort by the federal government to “absorb” Native Americans into mainstream America, a policy known by some historians as “assimilation.” Before the act is passed, Dr. Joseph K. Dixon, a proponent of “assimilation,” wrote: “The Indian, though a man without a country, the Indian who has suffered a thousand wrongs considered the white man’s burden and from mountains, plains, and divides, the Indian threw himself into the struggle to help throttle the unthinkable tyranny of the Hun. The Indian helped to free Belgium, helped to free all the small nations, helped to give victory to the Stars and Stripes. The Indian went to France to help avenge the ravages of autocracy. [Dixon is referencing many Native Americans’ service in the US military during World War I.] Now, shall we not redeem ourselves by redeeming all the tribes?” However, many states will ignore the act and use their statutes to deny Native Americans the vote. Many Native Americans will not be allowed to vote until 1948. (Nebraska Studies 2001; American Civil Liberties Union 2012)


Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike