The federal government dominated Indian affairs throughout most of the twentieth century. The areas of government influence include land regulation, tribal definition, quantum blood issues, and tribal enrollment. During the past century, government policy shifted from fulfilling treaty obligations to treating Indians as a domestic racial minority.
According to Parman (1994), the Dawes Act of 1887 was the most important piece of federal legislation affecting Indians at the turn of the century (p. 1). Although the explicit aim of the legislation was the redistribution of tribal lands to individuals, the implications of the policy, referred to as severalty, permeated every aspect of Native American culture. The Dawes Act fulfilled the desire of the United States government to suppress the Indian way of life and force assimilation into white culture. In the opinion of most bureaucrats: "Education in English, conversion to Christianity, and acceptance of white standards of conduct and morality would sever the Indians' ties with their 'savage heritage' and allow them to take their place in American society" (Parman, 1994, p. 3).
The Dawes Act provided for the allotment of large tracts of tribal land to all enrolled Indians. The legislation placed each allotment under federal trust for twenty-five years to prevent the sale of the land to non-Indians. As an added incentive to Indians to farm their individual plots, the federal government bestowed citizenship status on all adult landholders. Critics of the Dawes Act distribution program warned that the Indians desperately needed education to make the transition from hunters to farmers. These critics also foretold the wholesale loss of Indian land in the decades after the federal trusts expired.
Land-hungry whites quickly became dissatisfied with the limitations of the Dawes Act that allowed them access only to surplus Indian acreage. A major revision of the Act in 1...