Railroads and Conflict in the West

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Explain how the the Dawes Act affected the Native Americans of the West.

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The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 attempted to cut Native Americans' communal ties to their tribal lands in the West and to turn these lands over to individuals who would farm them. The goal was to assimilate Native Americans into white ways of life and white ways of cultivating the...

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The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 attempted to cut Native Americans' communal ties to their tribal lands in the West and to turn these lands over to individuals who would farm them. The goal was to assimilate Native Americans into white ways of life and white ways of cultivating the land. The land that was not claimed by Native Americans was given to whites for farming.

Though the ostensible purpose of this act was to alleviate Native Americans' poverty, in actuality, it reduced their ability to subsist on their lands. In many cases, whites purchased Native American lands, and Native Americans were left with plots that were too small in size and on which they could not grow sufficient crops. During the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reversed the Dawes Severalty Act and enabled western Native American tribes to return to tribal organization of their lands.

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The Dawes Act was a reflection of the industrialization and appropriation of American in accordance to a materialist subjectivity.  As prospecting and the desire to link the West via Transcontinental Railroads and the economic prosperity that followed, the reality was that this individual appropriation of land and wealth flew into the fact of the communitarian and collectivized ownership of land distribution in the Native American culture.  At the same time, the desired assimilation of Native Americans into "American" culture was sought and in making land individually owned and controlled, many thought that this would result in a more assimilated group of people.

In the end, the Dawes Act ended up doing much damage to breaking the communal bonds of the Native Americans, as land was privately and individually owned.  This flew in the face of the traditional communal ownership.  At the same time, this individual ownership was not sufficient for economic competition with railroads and big business endeavors.  The land that was left over, previously owned by the tribe, was allocated to industrialists and those who wished to build railroads.  In the end, the Dawes Act ended up representing a how the American government saw the Native Americans as a force to be conquered and overcome in the late 19th Century.

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