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Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

The relationship between Indigenous Peoples of North America and the United States government has always challenging difficult to define. By signing treaties, different Indigenous nations had different relationships with the government. In 1924, the United States changed this dynamic by creating the Indian Citizenship Act. How did Indigenous Peoples respond to this? What rights did they gain? Or lose? Let's unpack these questions and more!

The term "Indian" will be used in this article only regarding the Indian Citizenship Act or historical organizations. While some indigenous people identify with this term, this is not so for every person. The way that Indigenous Peoples of North America choose to identify is a personal choice unique to each individual.

Calvin Coolidge: Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

On April 6, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act. This act granted citizenship to all Indigenous peoples of North America. Like most white politicians of the twentieth century, Coolidge believed that forced assimilation was the best course of action for indigenous people.

Forced Assimilation:

Removing someone from their culture and language to replace it with one's own culture and language

Coolidge met with the Committee of One Hundred, a government group with indigenous and non-indigenous people in it, in 1923. The indigenous people at this meeting wanted to move forward, claiming that the old ways were dead and gone.

While the indigenous people may have wanted citizenship, they could not speak for every Native American Nation. Each indigenous person and community is different, so their wants and desires for their culture would vary. Why were they upset? To fully understand this, we need to dig into the history of indigenous citizenship in America.

Indian Citizenship Act at 1924 Calvin Coolidge StudySmarterFig. 1 - Calvin Coolidge would pose with Indigenous people outside the White House if they met with him. He wanted the American people to understand his commitment to indigenous people and their assimilation.

Indigenous Peoples of North America Relationship to US Citizenship

When Europeans began traveling to and living in the Americas, they made deals with the indigenous people of America for land. These deals were called treaties. After America was established as a sovereign state, it continued to negotiate treaties with indigenous people. These treaties defined the relationship between America and the indigenous people.

Sovereign State

A nation with a government that rules over itself.

America had gained independence from Great Britain, but other countries didn't recognize this. By creating treaties with other sovereign states, America could show that it was no longer a colony. America began signing treaties with Indigenous peoples for land. By signing treaties, America and Indigenous nations recognized each other as sovereign states.

Indigenous Citizenship was a question for the United States government for a long time.1 People who were Half Indigenous, or less, were allowed United States citizenship. Women who married white men were also given citizenship. Indigenous veterans were offered citizenship after World War I.

Indian Citizenship Act At 1924 Indigenous Woman StudySmarterFig. 2 - The amount of assimilation that Indigenous people chose to partake in was an individual's choice. The American government continued to become involved in the state of Indigenous people and their cultures.

Indigenous peoples were citizens of their Indigenous nations, not America. Nations had their own forms of government. That might look like a chief, a council of elders, or people nominated to represent them. They had their own laws and were punished by their nation if they were broken.

Dawes Act

It is impossible to tell the story of Indigenous citizenship in America without discussing the Dawes Act. In 1887, the Dawes Act allowed the government to ignore treaties and break up Indigenous peoples' land. Around 160 acres of land were granted to the "heads" of families, and they had to enroll with the Office of Indian Affairs.

Today, the Office of Indian Affairs is known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs!

The excess land was sold to non-indigenous people by the US government. The Indigenous people received the worst of the land, which was often unsuitable for farming. The non-Indigenous who bought the land did so at a discounted value. Thus, the Indigenous people were underpaid.

Indigenous people who went through this received US citizenship. The goal of the Dawes Act, and most policies toward Indigenous peoples, was forced assimilation. The idea was that the only way to make the Indigenous peoples more "America" was to separate them from their culture and identities.

Forced Assimilation:

Removing someone from their culture and language to replace it with one's own culture and language

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 Definition

That all non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.

- Indian Citizenship Act, (December 3, 1924)

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave United States citizenship to all Indigenous people. There were believed to be 300,000 Indigenous peoples in America, and a little over a third of them weren't citizens. Let's take a closer look at the impact of the Indian Citizenship Act on Indigenous peoples.

Positive and Negative Implications of the Indian Citizenship Act 1924

Indigenous peoples of North America were citizens. However, some White people were upset that Indigenous peoples were receiving the same rights as them and so often denied them their rights. The same tactics used against African Americans were used on Indigenous peoples to prevent them from voting.

Suppression of People of Color's Voting Rights

People of Color's voting rights were suppressed in America as soon as they could vote. There were literacy tests designed so that even literate people would fail. A poll tax required people to pay one dollar to vote, which was a lot of money for impoverished people. Lastly, grandfather clauses allowed people whose ancestors could vote before 1867 to bypass the restrictions and freely vote. The only people who could vote in 1867 were white men.

Utah was the last state to allow Indigenous peoples to vote in 1957. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected the rights of voters. It was strengthened with several other Voting Rights Acts, which together worked to allow all US citizens to vote regardless of their race.

Activists worked for Indigenous peoples to gain citizenship. They believed that Indigenous peoples were the first people of America, so the fact that they had no political power in America was an issue. They wanted Indigenous peoples to gain political power and have a say in what happened to them in America.

Indian Citizenship Act At 1924 Native American Man StudySmarterFig. 3 - While indigenous people became citizens in 1924, they didn't were unable to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On the other side, many Indigenous peoples felt they had no voice. They argued that Indigenous peoples weren't consulted and that they didn't get to choose whether they wanted to be citizens. The Iroquois Nation rejected the Act because they felt it severed their ties to their ancestors. Though many Iroquois lived side by side with white people, they didn't want to assimilate fully.

The Onondaga Nation wrote President Coolidge a letter informing him that they were rejecting the Act. They had signed the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmor, and the 1794 Treaty of Conundaigu. These treaties should have prevented the American government from forcing citizenship onto the Onondaga Nation, but their protests were ignored.2

Along with the Onondaga, the Haudenosaunee maintain to this day that they are not American citizens. They have worked hard to fight assimilation by not converting to Christianity, preserving their language, and preserving their traditions.

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 Significance

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 is significant because it defined Indigenous peoples' relationship with the United States of America. Indigenous peoples were citizens of the country and entitled to the same protections provided by the Constitution as anyone else. Though they were entitled to these rights, they were denied them. Indigenous peoples, like African Americans, were prevented from voting. Indigenous people can vote today.

While some Indigenous peoples wanted to become citizens, others didn't. Some Indigenous nations today still do not claim citizenship in the United States of America. Through treaties signed with the United States government, they consider themselves to be semi-sovereign and that the United States government should uphold their end of the agreement, which is to acknowledge this.

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 - Key Takeaways

  • The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 aimed to force assimilation on Indigenous peoples quickly.
  • Some Indigenous peoples approved this because they felt it gave them a more significant say in the government. Others, like the Onondaga Nation, felt this was forced on them.
  • Even though Indigenous peoples were citizens, they didn't gain the full benefits of citizenship.
  • Indigenous peoples couldn't vote in every state until the middle of the 20th century.

References

  1. David E. Wilkins, Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights, 2014.
  2. General Counsel of Onondaga Nation, Letter to Calvin Coolidge, 1924.

Frequently Asked Questions about Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

Indigenous peoples gained citizenship in 1924 because the president, and many politicians of the time, believed that assimilation was the best thing that could happen to indigenous communities. 

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave citizenship to all Indigenous people born in America. 

Native Americans gained citizenship in 1924 because Calvin Coolidge, along with most politicians at the time, believed that assimilation was the best thing for Indigenous peoples.

The Indian Citizenship Act gave Indigenous peoples citizenship without consulting them. They had no decision in the matter and it was decided for them. Indigenous peoples, theoretically, would gain the benefits of citizenship, but they didn't.

Indigenous peoples would, theoretically gain the benefits of citizenship. They didn't. They weren't able to vote until the 1960s. Indigenous people were not consulted when the act was passed. 

Final Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 Quiz

Question

Before the Indian Citizenship Act, which of the following was not a way for Native Americans to become US citizens?

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Answer

By living in a non-Native American town for ten years

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Question

Which act was signed in 1887 that made Native Americans citizens while taking and redistributing their land?

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Answer

Dawes Act

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Question

Which office managed the enrollment of Native Americans after the Dawes Act?

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Answer

Office of Indian Affairs

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Question

_______ ______ is removing someone from their culture and language to replace it with one's own culture and language.

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Answer

Forced Assimilation 

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Question

Native Americans were able to vote after 1924, but were prevented from doing so. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Which state was the last to allow Native Americans to vote?

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Answer

Utah

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Question

Name two ways that Native Americans were denied the right to vote.

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Answer

Poll Taxes and Literacy Tests

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Question

All Native Americans were pleased to become citizens.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which president signed the Indian Citizenship Act?

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Answer

Calvin Coolidge 

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Question

The Onondaga Nation wanted to become US citizens. 

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Answer

True

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