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Cherokee Freedmen Enrollment Notice

The American Dawes Commission, named for its first chairman Henry L. Dawes, was authorized under a rider to an Indian Office appropriation bill, March 3, 1893. Its purpose was to convince the Five Civilized Tribes to agree to cede tribal title of Indian lands, and adopt the policy of dividing tribal lands into individual allotments that was enacted for other tribes as the Dawes Act of 1887. In November 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed Dawes as chairman, and Meridith H. Kidd and Archibald S. McKennon as members.

During this process, the Indian nations were stripped of their communally held national lands, which was divided into single lots and allotted to individual members of the nation. However, the Dawes Commission required that individuals claim membership in only one tribe, although many had more than one line of ancestry. Registration in the national registry known as the Dawes Rolls has come to be critical in issues of Indian citizenship and land claims. Many people did not sign up on these rolls because they feared government persecution if their ethnicity was formally entered into the system. Furthermore, people often had mixed blood sharing several tribes. Nonetheless, according to the Dawes rules, a person who was 1/4 Cherokee and 1/4 Creek must choose one and register simply as '1/4 Cherokee', for instance. That would have forced a person to lose part of his or her inheritance and heritage.

Although many Indian tribes did not consider strict 'blood' descent the only way to determine if a person was a member of a tribe, the Dawes commission did. Many Freedmen (slaves of Indians who were freed after the civil war), were kept off the rolls.

Many Creek Freedmen are still fighting this battle today against the Creek Nation, as they attempt to share in benefits of citizenship. But the tribe has defined as members only those who are descended from an Indian listed on the Dawes Rolls. A similar controversy has embroiled Cherokee Freedmen and the Cherokee Nation.

The result of the Dawes Commission was that Indian nations lost most of their national land. This cleared the way for white settlers looking for oil and farm land to come into the territories in areas such as Tulsa, buy up the small lots from the Indians, and set up towns. The Indians received money but lost their territory.

Angie Debo's landmark work, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes (1940), detailed how the allotment policy of the Dawes Commission and the Curtis Act of 1898 was systematically manipulated to deprive the Native Americans of their lands and resources.[1] In the words of historian Ellen Fitzpatrick, Debo's book "advanced a crushing analysis of the corruption, moral depravity, and criminal activity that underlay white administration and execution of the allotment policy."[2]


  1. ^ Angie Debo, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940; new edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984), ISBN 0691046158.
  2. ^ Ellen Fitzpatrick, History's Memory: Writing America's Past, 1880-1980 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), ISBN 067401605X, p. 133, excerpt available online at Google Books.

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