Laws Reflect Changing Status of American Indians in U.S. History
The history of U.S. legislation regarding American Indians reveals changing societal attitudes on their status - from members of fully sovereign nations, to dependents of the U.S. government, to holders of a quasi dual-citizenship.
Following are some of the more significant laws affecting American Indians:
1830 - The Indian Removal Act authorized the president to negotiate with Indian tribes an exchange of their lands located east of the Mississippi River for lands west of the Mississippi River.
1862 - The Homestead Act allowed adult citizens and aliens who had filed for citizenship to submit a claim for 65 hectares in return for a $10 fee. After living on the land or farming it for five years, the homesteader could pay additional fees and receive the title to the land. This act spurred settlement of land formerly designated as "Indian territory" at a time when American Indians were not considered citizens.
1887 - The Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act, established a census of American Indians known as the Dawes Rolls and allotted tribal lands to individual Indians.
1898 - The Curtis Act reaffirmed allotment of tribal lands on Indian reservations and ended tribal sovereignty in the territories.
1906 - The Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities made excavation, theft or destruction of historic or prehistoric ruins or objects of antiquity on federal lands a criminal offense. However, Indian corpses and Indian artifacts were defined as "archeological resources" and thus considered federal property.
1924 - The Indian Citizenship Act gave U.S. citizenship to American Indians, including the right to vote in national elections. However, it did not provide full protection under the Bill of Rights to Indians living under tribal governments. Several nations, including the Hopi and the Iroquois, declined U.S. citizenship in favor of retaining sovereign nationhood.
1934 - The Indian Reorganization Act, or Wheeler-Howard Act, reinstituted the role of sovereign tribes as governments for Indian people and their lands. The law ended Indian land allotment and provided for the strengthening of tribal governments and the restoration of tribal lands and powers.
1968 - The Indian Civil Rights Act prohibited Indian tribal governments from enacting or enforcing laws that violate certain individual rights. It contained language similar to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution but did not prohibit an Indian nation from establishing an official religion.
1970 - President Nixon's Special Message on Indian Affairs set a new direction for national policy: self-determination for Indian tribes. In his statement, Nixon condemned the "forced termination" of tribes and described them as separate political entities with special standing under U.S. law.
1971 - The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act settled the claim of Alaska's Native Indian, Aleut and Eskimo population to the aboriginal lands on which they have lived for generations by granting title to 16 million hectares of land to be divided among some 220 native villages and 12 regional corporations.
1975 - The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act gave American Indians more control in administering federal programs and services to their people.
1976 - The Indian Health Care Improvement Act declared elevating the health status of the American and Alaska Native people to a level at parity with the general U.S. population to be national policy.
1978 - The Indian Child Welfare Act set up mandatory procedures for state agencies and courts in Indian child custody matters and established that American Indians are allowed to act as foster parents and qualify for adoption. The act also provided Indian communities with child welfare and family services.
1978 - The American Indian Religious Freedom Act protected and preserved the right of American Indians to believe, express and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects and the freedom to worship through traditional ceremonies and rites.
1988 - The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allowed tribes to conduct gambling on their land after negotiating agreements with their state governments.
1989 - The National Museum of the American Indian Act ordered the Smithsonian Institution to return American Indian remains to American Indian tribes.
1990 - The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act addressed the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to American Indian human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and cultural items. The statute required federal agencies and museums to provide information about American Indian cultural items to parties with standing and, upon presentation of a valid claim, ensure that the items undergo disposition or repatriation.
1990 - The Indian Arts and Crafts Act established protections for the work of Indian artists.
1994 - The Indian Trust Reform Act outlined the responsibilities of the U.S. secretary of the interior with respect to the individual trust accounts established in the General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act, of 1887.
2000 - The Indian Tribal Justice Technical and Legal Assistance Act increased American Indians' access to legal assistance and sought to enhance the capabilities of tribal courts.
2004 - The American Indian Probate Reform Act established uniform procedures for inheritance of land allotments authorized in the General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act, of 1887.
2008 - The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act reauthorized the Department of Housing and Urban Development's affordable housing programs for Native Americans and created a new guaranteed loan program for community and economic development activities for tribes.
Source: U.S. Department of State
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