The Great American Land Row - Native Americans and U.S. Government

tliouk office at
Fri Aug 29 16:52:54 BST 2003

The following ("The Great American Land Row - Native Americans and 
U.S. Government Allotment Acts") illustrates how the origin of 
allotment designation amongst the native Indian population was the 
precursor for enclosure of the native Indian's right of livelihood 
since alloting parcels of land on an individual-by-individual basis 
put paid to their original philosophy of collective/communal 
management of the land resource, disempowering the natives and 
ensuring their adoption of the habits and practices of the new 
settler population (not least also because the US General Allotment 
Act of 1887 meant that Indians had only partial ownership because the 
United States considered itself to have legal title to the land). 
This is thought-provoking for the situation that we (those of us 
concerned with matters pertaining to reclaiming freedoms dispossessed 
from us generations ago and on an on-going basis now) find ourselves 
in at the start of the 21st centuury, i.e. corporate conglomeration 
up and down the food chain from the seed to the commercial agro-
industrial model of food production which is environmentally 
bankrupt. Allotments are now the last remnants of the commons upon 
which local communities can re-assert their independence from the 
corporate controlled food machine, that pollutes our natural 
environments, undercuts livelihoods the world over, and supplies us 
with cheap but sub-standard food produce. Allotments are infact, the 
battleground upon which communities can wrest back power from the 
corporate-supermarket juggernaught that devalues and shortchanges 
local communities, siphoning local money out of local communities. 
Allotments can be where communities re-assert their autonomy, since 
they are and always have been primarily about self-sufficiency, 
whether they are collectively managed or set up as individual plots.
Mark (Land is Ours)
The Great American Land Row - Native Americans and U.S. Government
Allotment Acts

American Indians are embroiled in a $137bn lawsuit with the US
Government over land royalties. The saga, which has been going on for
seven years, rests on a judge's decision, which is expected shortly.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), an arm of the US Department of the
Interior, is being sued in a class action on behalf of 280,000 

The plaintiff, Eloise Cobell, a 56-year-old Blackfeet Indian from
Browning, Montana, claims billions went missing because records were 
not kept properly and trusts were pilfered by the US Government.

The dispute dates back to the 1887 Dawes Act, which seized Indian 
land - much of it rich in natural resources - and gave it to white-
owned companies to exploit.

History of the dispute

1877: Battle of the Little Big Horn, followed by defeat of Crazy Horse
and end of Indian Wars

1887: Dawes Act leads to land being parcelled up and sold off

1996: Eloise Cobell launches lawsuit, claiming the trusts have been

2002: The Department of the Interior is ordered to account for all the

2003: Judge will decide whose accounting plan to adopt

Under the Act the land was divided into plots of between 160 and 180
acres.  Each Indian family was assigned a parcel of land, which was
alien to their culture in which all land belonged to the tribe.

The idea was for them to be "compensated" in perpetuity for the use of
their land.

The author of the Act claimed land ownership would "civilise" the
Indians, but disputes arose almost immediately.

To be civilised wear civilised clothes, cultivate the ground,
live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school,
drink whiskey and own property.

- Congressman Henry Dawes
Author of Dawes Act 1887

Mrs Cobell, a trained accountant, told BBC News Online: "I remember, 
as a child, hearing people complaining about not getting their 
cheques. They would go to the BIA office to complain and they'd be 
treated like dirt."  She launched the class action in 1996 and has 
already ruffled some very illustrious feathers.

Held in contempt

In 1999 a judge examining the case cited two of President Clinton's
Cabinet Secretaries, Bruce Babbitt and Robert Rubin, for contempt
because of their departments' failure to produce key documents.

Then in 2002 Judge Royce Lamberth found President Bush's Secretary of
the Interior, Gale Norton, in contempt for her failure to comply with
earlier court orders.

Now, after a 44-day trial, Judge Lamberth is considering two options.

He could accept the BIA's plan for accounting of the money in the 
trust accounts or he could agree to a far more radical approach 
suggested by Mrs Cobell's team.

Washington did not believe the Indians capable of exploiting the land

Mrs Cobell said: "They said we were stupid, incompetent and dumb and
couldn't run our own financial affairs. They said they would manage it
to the highest fiduciary standards."

But she said that in the intervening years the records of these
accounts, known as the Individual Indian Money (IIM) Trusts, became

The federal authorities lost track of the account holders and 
destroyed or mislaid records, said Mrs Cobell.

As a result hundreds of thousands of Native Americans allegedly never
got money which was owed to them.

Mrs Cobell, and the team of lawyers and accountants working for her,
said the trusts had not been audited since 1887 and she estimated up 
to $137bn had gone missing.

Some of the tribes affected

Cherokee (Oklahoma)

Sioux/Lakota (South Dakota)

Navajo (Utah)

Blackfeet (Montana)

Cheyenne (South Dakota)

Arapaho (Wyoming)

Chippewa/Ojibwa (Minnesota)

Nez Perce/Nimi'ipuu (Idaho)

She said some of the Indian families relied on the money to pay their
grocery bills.

Mrs Cobell said the government tightly regulated privately-run trust
funds but added: "When the shoe is on the other foot they don't have 
to comply with any law. They have run our trusts like a bank totally 
out of control.

"This is worse than Enron or WorldCom. It's the biggest scandal since
the Teapot Dome affair in the 1920s."

Mrs Cobell said: "It's ironic that the US Government, which has been
beating up on the Swiss over Jewish money from the 1940s, was
responsible for perpetrating an even bigger outrage on the Indians."

She is hoping, with 2004 being an election year, Indians in several 
key swing states - such as Nevada, Arizona and Montana - can bring 
pressure to bear on the Bush administration to settle the dispute and 
agree for the government to pay the missing money.

But BIA spokesman Dan DuBray said the figures given by the plaintiff
were "fanciful" and he said the case had been "infected with hyperbole
and bad feeling".

Mr DuBray, whose own father is a Sioux with an IIM account of his own,
said if the judge agreed to the plaintiff's plan it would take 10 
years and cost $2.4bn to check all transactions.

He said this type of "archaeological accounting" would not benefit 
those in Indian country, some of whose IIM accounts earned only a few 
cents a year.

American Indian decline

In 1492 it is estimated there were six million Indians in the 
territory of what became the United States. By 1900, decimated by 
disease, starvation and war, that number had fallen to 237,000  Mr 
DuBray said: "There is no question there is hundreds of years of poor 
history between the government and the Indians. But this case is not 
to do with Wounded Knee or the Trail of Tears."

He said: "The plaintiffs have suggested that we used Indian trust 
money to pay off the national debt, and to bail out Chrysler in the 
1970s. But there is no truth to any of these grandiose allegations."

Vernon Bellecourt, the director of international affairs with the
American Indian Movement, said they backed Mrs Cobell's lawsuit and
added: "It's outrageous that this has been allowed to happen."

Speaking from a sun dance ceremony in Montana, Mr Bellecourt told BBC
News Online: "We have been the victims of an American holocaust.

"They took our land away - sacred land, like the Black Hills (in South
Dakota) - and now we find out they have stolen our money."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/08/25 02:46:20 GMT



The History Of Allotment, Part 1
By The Indian Land Tenure Foundation

The U.S. Federal Government began the policy of allotting Indian land 
as early as 1798. Several treaties with Indian tribes included 
provisions that stated land would be divided among their individual 
members. After 1871, however, Congress declared that no further 
treaties would be made and all future dealings with Indians would be 
conducted through legislation. Although Congress passed a few acts 
that allotted land on specific Indian reservations, there was no 
vehicle to allot lands to individual Indians across the United 
States. Eventually, there was a push for a national federal policy to 
break up Indian land and assimilate native people.

The allotment advocates had several reasons for supporting allotment.
First, they considered the Indian way of life and collective use of 
land as communistic and backwards. They also saw the ownership of 
private property as an essential part of civilization that would give 
Indians a reason to stay in one place, cultivate land, disregard the 
cohesiveness of the tribe, and adopt the habits, practices, and 
interests of the new settler population. Furthermore, many thought 
that Indians had too much land. These people were eager to see Indian 
lands opened up for settlement as well as for railroads, mining, or 

The allotment advocates eventually succeeded in convincing the federal
government to adopt the policy nationally. In 1887, Congress passed 
the General Allotment Act. The Allotment Act was applied to 
reservations by the president whenever, in his opinion, it was 
advantageous for particular Indian tribes. Members of the selected 
tribe or reservation were given permission to select pieces of land - 
usually around 40 to 160 acres in size - for themselves and their 
children. If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount 
needed for allotment, then the federal government could negotiate to 
purchase the land from the tribes and then sell it to non-tribal 
settlers. Sixty million acres were either ceded outright or sold to 
non-Indian homesteaders and corporations as "surplus lands".

Furthermore, under the policy of allotment, Indian land ownership was
not the same as land ownership for other homesteaders. A non-Indian
settler could sell (or "alienate") his land because he had complete
("fee simple") ownership. Under the General Allotment Act, Indians had
only partial ownership because the United States considered itself to
have legal title to the land. Indians only had beneficial ("equitable"
or "usufruct") title. In other words, while the allotment was held "in
trust" by the federal government, the Indian landholder could use the
land but not sell it. However, the act stated that 25 years after the
allotment was issued, Indians would be given complete, fee simple
ownership of the land. At that point, the landholder could sell it to

Although the General Allotment Act was the first major piece of
legislation designed to allot Indian reservations across the United
States, many other tribes were allotted at different times under 
special legislation. These acts usually are similar to the General 
Allotment Act but often contain special provisions. These acts and 
pre-Dawes Act treaties can be found in the Tribe/Reservation Specific 
Information section.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003


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