ITG FAQ #5 Answer-What was the General Allotment Act?


The General Allotment Act (commonly referred to as the Dawes Act) was an attempt to create a new role for the Indian in American society. This Act allotted a specified amount of land to each Indian. It also provided that after passage of a specified period, the allottee would be issued a fee title to his allotment, "discharged of said trust and free of all charge or encumbrance whatsoever" (Sec. 5). Thereafter "all restrictions as to sale, encumbrance, or taxation of said land shall be removed." (Sec. 6) The purpose of the Act was to give each Indian a small parcel of land so that he could become economically self-sufficient and gradually emerge into the mainstream of American society.

This allotment system ultimately failed in practice because many Indians whose allotments ripened into fees would sell their land to non-Indians. This often left the sellers landless and impoverished, and adversely affected unity of reservations. (Department of the Interior, FEDERAL INDIAN LAW, supra, pp.253-58). In 1934, Congress enacted the Indian Reorganization Act, which for practical purposes, terminated the allotment system.

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