On June 2, 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. The right to vote, however, was governed by state law; until 1957, some states barred Native Americans from voting. In a WPA interview from the 1930s, Henry Mitchell describes the attitude toward Native Americans in Maine, one of the last states to comply with the Indian Citizenship Act:
One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the city hall about voting. I don’t know just what position that official had over there, but he said to the Indian, ‘We don’t want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.’
Just why the Indians shouldn’t vote is something I can’t understand.
“The Life of Henry Mitchell.” Robert Grady, interviewer; Old Town, Maine, ca. 1938-1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
Previously, the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) had shaped U.S. policy towards Native Americans. In accordance with its terms, and hoping to turn Indians into farmers, the federal government redistributed tribal lands to heads of families in 160-acre allotments. Unclaimed or “surplus” land was sold, and the proceeds used to establish Indian schools where Native-American children learned reading, writing, and the domestic and social systems of white America. By 1932, the sale of both unclaimed land and allotted acreage resulted in the loss of two-thirds of the 138 million acres that Native Americans had held prior to the Dawes Act.
In addition to the extension of voting rights to Native Americans, the Secretary of the Interior commissioned the Institute for Government Research to assess the impact of the Dawes Act. Completed in 1928, the Meriam ReportExternal described how government policy oppressed Native Americans and destroyed their culture and society.
The poverty and exploitation resulting from the paternalistic Dawes Act spurred passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. This legislation promoted Native-American autonomy by prohibiting allotment of tribal lands, returning some surplus land, and urging tribes to engage in active self-government. Rather than imposing the legislation on Native Americans, individual tribes were allowed to accept or reject the Indian Reorganization Act. From 1934 to 1953, the U.S. government invested in the development of infrastructure, health care, education, and the quality of life on Indian lands improved. With the aid of federal courts and the government, over two million acres of land were returned to various tribes.
Photographs from American Indians of the Pacific Northwest External:
American Indians of the Pacific Northwest External integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to Native Americans of two cultural areas of the Pacific Northwest. Many aspects of life and work — including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment, are illustrated in this collection drawn from the extensive holdings of the University of Washington Libraries, the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.
- Native American rights advocate, Dr. Joseph Kossuth Dixon, a former Baptist minister, undertook efforts to document the Native American experience during World War I with the hope that documenting Native American service in the military would aid the struggle to obtain general U.S. citizenship. Forty percent of Native Americans were not citizens until 1924, though more than 12,000 served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Read the Geography & Map Division blog post Native Americans in the First World War and the Fight for Citizenship which shows a map that used Dr. Dixon’s work to document Native American participation during the war.
- The Library’s Music Division used their In the Muse blog to remember the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act by presenting the publication American Indian Melodies. Read Sheet Music of the Week: American Indian Edition.
- Search Congress.gov to follow legislation affecting Native Americans. Ongoing efforts to protect their rights are seen through the introduction of bills both in the Senate and House of Representatives such as H.R. 1694–Native American Voting Rights Act of 2019.
- Listen to Native American music. Omaha Indian Music features traditional Omaha music from the 1890s and 1980s. The multiformat ethnographic field collection contains 44 wax cylinder recordings collected by Francis La Flesche and Alice Cunningham Fletcher between 1895 and 1897, 323 songs and speeches from the 1983 Omaha harvest celebration pow-wow, and 25 songs and speeches from the 1985 Hethu’shka Society concert at the Library of Congress. Search by keyword or browse the list of recorded music.
- View photographs documenting Native American life in the 1930s and 1940s. Search the collection, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives on reservation or Indian.
- George Washington Papers includes many references to Indian treaties and rights; to explore this aspect of Washington’s correspondence, search the collection on Indian rights and Indian treaties.
- The collections of the Library’s Manuscript Division include many items that document the lives and culture of Native Americans. Examine the following examples:
- Manuscript Map of Indian lands in Wisconsin from the Henry Rowe Schoolcraft Papers
- Indian treaty signed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 13, 1713, from the Levi Woodbury Papers
- “Plan of the Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio,” evidence of ancient mound-builders indigenous to America from the E.G. Squier Papers
- Search Today in History on Native American to read additional features including pages on Jim Thorpe, the Cherokee chief John Ross, and the Paiute writer and translator Sarah Winnemucca.
- Explore the Library’s Curtis (Edward S) Collection of photographs of tribes from seven geo-cultural regions: Pacific Northwest, New Southwest, Great Basin, Great Plains, Plateau Region, California, and Alaska. For comparison, visit the online presentation from Northwestern University of Edward S. Curtis’s The North American IndianExternal which portrays the traditional customs and lifeways of eighty Indian tribes.
- Denver Public Library Digital CollectionsExternal includes images of Native Americans from more than forty tribes living west of the Mississippi River.