"Copyright (c) 1993 International Journal on World Peace, reprinted with permission of the authors."
"...the real aim of [the Dawes Act] is to get at the Indians land and open it up for resettlement." - Senator Henry M. Teller, 1881
The United States Government has been trying unsuccessfully to register Native American Indians for over a hundred years. The infamous Dawes Act of 1887 was the first such effort on a large-scale. The purported aim of the Act was to protect Indian property rights during the Oklahoma Land Rush. By registering, Indians were told, they would be allotted 160 acres of land per family in advance of the Land Rush and thus be restituted for 100 years of genocide against them.
The purpose of the Dawes Act, ostensibly to protect Indian welfare, was viewed with suspicion by many Indians hurt by government's clumsy relocation efforts of the past. Indians who had refused to submit to previous relocations refused to register on the Dawes Rolls for fear that they would be caught and punished.
To get on the Dawes Rolls, Native Americans had to "anglicize" their names. Rolling Thunder thus became Ron Thomas and so forth. This bit of "melting pot" chicanery allowed agents of the government, sent to the frontier to administer the Act, to slip the names of their relatives and friends onto the Dawes Rolls and thus reap millions of acres of land for their friends and cronys.
The abuses of the Dawes Act were revealed and set forth in the Miriam Report of 1928. A Group of 1001 Native Americans and prominent citizens were charged by Congress to look into widespread allegations of corruption and abuse of the Dawes Act. The 800 page report documented massive fraud and misappropriation by the very government agents sent to administer the Act. It was found in one state alone that Indian held land, which totaled 138 million acres in 1887 at the time the Dawes Act was signed into law, had been reduced to 47 million acres of land by 1934 when the Act was repealed.
The Miriam Report led to the repeal of the Dawes Act although repeal did not mean that land obtained thru fraud was restored. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, written specifically to indemnify Native Americans for the abuses of the Dawes Act simply "grandfathered in" the existing deeds and that was that.
As compensation, Indians were to benefit from a credit fund designed to encourage small businesses and self-sufficiency. The government stepped up efforts to recruit Natives into posts in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, set up an Indian Court system to deal with non-federal crimes, and established a mechanism for Indians to pool their land, purchase new parcels and own land as a corporate entity.
By 1954, it had become clear that the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was failing. Implementation of the Act was plagued by the same incompetance and corruption created by the Dawes Act.
Ethnic CleansingThe Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1954, therefore, initiated the ominous sounding "Termination and Relocation" phase of the Reorganization Act. Funding for the programs of the IRA of 1934 was abruptly cut off causing thousands of bankruptcies and painful dislocation among the tribes. In addition, this new law removed government recognition of 61 tribes leaving hundreds of thousands of Native Americans unqualified for government assistance. Whether this was an administrative convenience or a design to eliminate pesky tribal property claims, the net result was yet another arbitrary appropriation of property inflicted on Native Americans, many of whom are fighting in the courts to this day to get their rights back.
On February 20 President Clinton took a call on World News Tonight from a young Lumbee Indian girl who asked the President why she was still being denied her heritage. The President and Peter Jennings both looked dumbstruck. Both confessed to being unaware of the problem and the President promised to "look into it."
The Lumbee are a tribe of over 40,000 Indians located in North Carolina who were "erased" by the Termination and Relocation Act of 1954. "Sorry, the government says you no longer exist but, Have a Nice Day!"
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990"Legislators consistently vote on legislation without understanding what is in it, especially when the final vote is taken." - Senator H.L. RichardsonWhat Makes You Think We Read The Bills?'
It is not commonly known that it was only in 1924 that the U.S. Congress generously extended citizenship to all Native American Indians, a priviledge, they had never enjoyed up until that point.
The Orwellian absurdity of government handling of Indian affairs has now reached a new height.
Public Law 101-644, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, was passed on the hectic last day of the congressional session, a Saturday and signed by President Bush on November 29, 1990. The purpose of the law, in addition to attempting to rectify the mess created by 100 years of incompetant legislation, was to protect Native American craftsmen and women from the flood of counterfeit Native American arts & crafts from Taiwan and beyond.
This perfectly plausible objective was expanded beyond the realm of jewelry and other native crafts to include all art produced by those who are certifiably Indian. Under the 1990 Act, Indian Artisans may not use the words "Native American Artisan" to sell crafts they produce unless they are certified as genuine Indians by the Federal Government. The language of the 1990 Act defines an Indian as "any individual who is a member of an Indian tribe or is certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian tribe." Sounds harmless enough doesn't it?
The problems begin in the certification process. It's not enough that you were born to Indian parents. Nor is it enough for a Native American to trace his lineage back to the time of Christ. First of all, the applicant must be able to prove he was born in a tribe that is officially recognized by the U.S. Government. As I mentioned above, the 1954 Termination and Relocation Act of 1954 arbitrarily erased 61 tribes. Secondly, an applicant must prove he or she was born to officially recognized Indian parents. This also sounds simple enough, on the surface. The problem is that many Native Americans cannot obtain the necessary documents thanks to relocations going back to the early 1800s, the confusion created by the Dawes Act, the compounded confusion created by the Termination and Relocation Act, and the prevailing 3rd world conditions existing in the majority of tribal homelands.
The Real Affect of the LawThe point is, many genuine Indian artists cannot obtain certification under the Act. Their ancestral tribes may have been disolved long ago. No authority remains by which they can obtain certification even if they wanted to. Thousands of Kickapoos, Potawatamis, Cheyennes, Sioux, Arapahoes, Blackfeet, Lumbees and others have been legislated out of artistic existance. Thousands of Indian families whose livelihoods depend on selling arts and crafts have just had those livelihoods arbitrarily confiscated, courtesy of the U.S. Government.
Indian artisans who defy the new law risk fines of up to $1,000,000, and up to 15 years in prison. Corporations or groups who defy the new regulations face up to $5,000,000 in fines.
Indian artisans are already being turned away from art competitions and trade meets. Jeanne Walker Rorex is a well known Oklahoma artist whose work has won all kinds of regional awards. She is descended from Cherokee sculptor Willard Stone whose sculptures are displayed in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Ms. Rorex was recently barred from participating in the major American Indian Heritage competition at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. She refuses to register because of the principle of the matter. The law implies that her family, relatives and ancestors were all frauds.
Apartheid in AmericaThere is another element of this whole business that many Indian artisans find intolerable and that is registering themselves based on their ethnic heritage. The process smells too much of the bad old days in the South when the census counted mulattoes, quadroons and octaroons and doled out rights based on quantities of blood. Even the CDIB cards (Certification of Degree of Indian Blood) bear an eerie resemblance to the pass-books used to control non-whites in South Africa.
Indians are fed up with being registered, un-registered, administratively erased and so on by an incompetent and often corrupt bureaucracy. The very idea smacks of ethnic cleansing and divides Native Americans, certified vs. non-certified, against each other.
Civil Disobedience, An American Citizens' ResponsibilityNumerous non-registered Native Americans are deliberately defying this latest piece of legislation by continuing to practice their ancestral arts. They are not doing this as American Indians but as American Citizens exercising their painfully earned constitutional rights. They are acting as American Citizens, not just Indians.
That the Indian Arts & Crafts Act of 1990 should be repealed goes without saying. An arts and crafts act should protect Native American Crafts, not disenfranchise ethnic individuals from their heritage.
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