Place, politics, and property : negotiating allotment and citizenship for the Citizen Potawatomi, 1861-1891

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2013-05

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Mosteller, Kelli Jean

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Abstract

This study explores the varied Citizen Potawatomi responses to federal assimilation and land policies from 1861 to 1891. The professed intention for these laws and treaties was to acculturate Native Americans into American society, but there was a clear ulterior motive to drastically reduce the land base of tribes in the West. The outcomes of policies that arranged for allotment and citizenship were mixed. The federal government successfully dispossessed the Citizen Potawatomi of large quantities of land and virtually every tribal member became a U.S. citizen, but few individuals became successful farmers or businessmen. The government's efforts also unintentionally resulted in fostering a stronger tribal identity and better tribal organization to argue for the collective and individual rights of Citizen Potawatomi tribal members. As the United States became embroiled in a devastating civil war and thousands of Americans flooded west in search of opportunity, the Citizen Potawatomi entered into a treaty agreement to allot their lands and become U.S. citizens. The Citizen Potawatomi treaty of 1861 forced tribal members to abandon the practice of holding land in common by stipulating that they must accept allotments and become U.S. citizens. Unintended consequences of the flaws in the government's plan were the near-complete loss of lands allotted to the Citizen Potawatomi, and a muddying of their legal status. Within a decade a large percentage of tribal members were landless and sought a new home in Indian Territory. By 1872 the Citizen Potawatomi better understood how to use non-Indian methods to fight for favorable allotments and full enfranchisement in the extralegal condition that characterized both their new home and themselves. Two decades later, when the federal government opened thousands of acres of Citizen Potawatomi lands to non-Indian settlement, tribal members had learned a painful, but strengthening lesson. To salvage a distinct tribal identity and political independence, the Citizen Potawatomi took command of their relationship with the federal government by demonstrating knowledge of the legislation that defined their legal rights and manipulating the inconsistent application of those policies.

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