Under the Dawes Act of 1887, the federal government doled out 160 acres of land to the head of each Indian family at Pine Ridge and other reservations. Congress could sell off any un-allotted lands, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs would maintain a tribal trust fund of revenues from mineral, oil, timber and grazing leases. (That trust fund is the subject of the ongoing lawsuit brought by Blackfeet tribal member Elouise Cobell in 1996.)
Then, in 1906, Congress passed the Burke Act, which allowed the BIA to measure Native Americans’ “competence” to handle their homestead lands, based on ancestry, cultural assimilation — even the length of a person’s hair. The assessments at Pine Ridge underscored official prejudice: By 1915, government agents had classified 56 percent of the Oglala Lakota living on the reservation as “incompetent,” and 700,000 additional acres were sold off before the practice ceased in 1934. Other parcels allotted to “incompetent” Indians were shifted into the leasing system, which has served mostly non-Native ranchers. But “competent” Indians didn’t make out much better, since they were forced to pay taxes on their allotments. Ninety-five percent of these lands were eventually sold to non-Natives for a fraction of their real value.
And the allotment system had lasting cultural impact: By chopping up the land base, it effectively ended communal hunting practices. As the original allottees died and their children inherited the land, parcels were fractionated among dozens — sometimes hundreds — of heirs.
To read the entire article go to http://www.hcn.org/issues/41.15/a-new-land-grab