“For My Women I See Nothing”: Native American Women and the Dawes Act of 1887
Ball-Schaller, Rebecca C.
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CitationBall-Schaller, Rebecca C. 2020. “For My Women I See Nothing”: Native American Women and the Dawes Act of 1887. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThe Dawes Act, passed on February 8, 1887 , was at the time seen as a revolution. The Dawes Act and all associated policies, such as allotment, would only be in place until 1934—when it was reversed by the Wheeler-Howard Act (sometimes referred to as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934)—but its effects were far reaching. The Dawes Act deeply affected the gender roles of Native Americans within their societies, particularly the roles and lives of Native American women.
The Dawes Act shifted land ownership into the hands of men and, along with it, much of the control that had for centuries previously belonged to women. Historically, women in many Native American societies worked the land and thus controlled the source of food production. With the Dawes Act, much of that influence disappeared. The Dawes Act also forced a European family structure on the Native Americans; the land allotments were only given to male heads of household, which drastically altered the family structure in many Native groups that were historically matrilineal. Finally, the Dawes Act’s focus on privatization of land would change Native ties to each other and the land; Native Americans would now work their land independently, far away from family and support systems. Throughout this thesis, these themes will be illustrated through the voices of a Piute, Sarah Winnemucca; a Hidasta woman, Buffalo Bird Woman; and a Sioux woman, Zitkala-Sa.
Many of these changes were not accidental; the Dawes Act was meant to assimilate Native Americans. Part of this assimilation process was the intentional breaking down of Native peoples’ cultures and traditions, essentially ethnocide. In the words of one Dawes rolls worker, Philip Lewis, who worked with the Creek nation, “In 1897 President Wm. McKinley appointed Tams Bixby as Commissioner to the Five Civilized Tribes. It was his duty with the commission to make a treaty with the Indians for the purpose of abolishing tribal governments, establishing their citizenship and arranging for the allotment of lands.” Before even mentioning allotment as a goal of the commissioner, Lewis first names the elimination of the tribal governments of Native Americans.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365067
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