The Great American Land Row - Native Americans and U.S. Government
office at tlio.demon.co.uk
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
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
The author of the Act claimed land ownership would "civilise" the
Indians, but disputes arose almost immediately.
To be civilised is...to 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
Sioux/Lakota (South Dakota)
Cheyenne (South Dakota)
Nez Perce/Nimi'ipuu (Idaho)
She said some of the Indian families relied on the money to pay their
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
© BBC MMIII
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
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
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