What was the impact of the Dawes Severalty Act?

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The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 was signed by President Cleveland.  The law was sold to the general public as a good will measure for the United States to help incorporate Native Americans into western culture.  The premise of the law was to divide communal Native American reservations into individually owned land by tribal members.  Cleveland argued it would benefit the members by providing direct ownership which would help integrate them into society. 

The Dawes Act provided 160 acres to the head of each family to encourage farming.  If the family could certify after twenty-five years they were minimally successful the deed to the land would be granted.  Failure to certify or improve the land would result in ownership reverting back to the federal government.  Single men and boys could also get land for use, but women were not allowed to own land.  Additionally the Act set up boarding schools designed to better integrate Native Americans, but almost destroyed their cultural heritage.

The federal government was able to sell off large plots of "surplus" land from the reservations by limiting ownership.  Land not certified was also sold off to non-native people further devastating the reservations of Native Americans.  The Dawes Act helped to reduce Native American lands from 138 million acres to 78 million acres in less than fifteen years.  The Act was eventually nullified by the Wheeler-Howard Act in 1934 under President Franklin Roosevelt's first term.

The Dawes Act facilitated the destruction of Native American relations with the federal government and created division even among tribes.  The Act did not apply to certain tribes, which allowed them to retain their land and culture.  Leaving the Seneca Nation in New York, Sioux Nation in Nebraska and nine nations settled in "Indian Territory" (which later became the state Oklahoma) untouched, these nations were better able to maintain their cultural identity. 

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