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The Dawes Act Of 1887: A Dream Of "Civilizing The Savages" That Became A Nightmare For Native Americans

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Chapter Summary

This chapter recalls an American social and religious movement, dedicated to enhancing the well-being of a beleaguered indigenous population, that culminated, 120 years ago, in life-changing legislation by the Congress of the United States. The purpose of the chapter is threefold: to heighten general awareness of the provisions and intent of the Dawes Act; to offer an admittedly incomplete overview of the social and political forces and religious ideologies that converged to make allotment of land to Native Americans in severalty, with the resultant breakup of the reservation system, seem like a desirable solution to the "Indian problem;" and to say something of its consequences, up to and including the lawsuit. It then comments upon a selection of nineteenth-century texts that provide an ideological paper trail for the project of "civilizing the savages" as it evolved through the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Keywords: Dawes Act; Native American; Nightmare



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