Otoe-Missouria Allotment

Posted By BrokenClaw on January 4, 2007

Allotment, or allotment in severalty, was the process of assigning specific plots of land on the reservation to specific individuals, a concept of land-ownership that was completely contrary to the communal livelihood of most native tribes, especially nomadic hunters like the Otoe-Missouria. Allotment, authorized by US Congress in the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, was another means to assimilate Indians into white culture, but its main result was to provide a means to sell reservation land to white owners. In many cases, after each member of the tribe received their allotment, the Commission simply sold the remaining surplus land, with no regard for future generations of the tribe. Within fifty years, native-held land was reduced to less than a third of what it was.

The initial allotment of the Otoe-Missouria Reservation was the long and arduous task of Helen P. Clarke, who was appointed by President Harrison to make allotments on several reservations in Indian Territory. She completed the allotment of the Tonkawa Reservation in six weeks. The next day, 1 July 1891, she moved on to the Otoe-Missouria. She soon found that the tribe opposed allotment and was determined to resist her efforts. Ms. Clarke continued to survey the land and to try to convince tribal members to accept their allotment. After four years, in 1895, a delegation of tribal leaders traveled to Washington to meet with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to express their opposition to allotment. They chose Mitchell DeRoin, the youngest but most eloquent member of the delegation, to speak on their behalf. He concluded his remarks with the following:

It is not right for my people to take allotments. We can live like white men without cutting up our land. Look at us: you see me with pants and coat on, but we are Indians all the same. Why cannot we work like a white man and hold our land as it is. We would rather be naked and go hungry than to take allotments and to have that land go out of our hand at some future time. While we hold the land as it is, we can go anywhere and know that we have a home to come back to; but if we take allotments we will not have a home. But if we hold the land in common and till the ground, we will have a home as long as the world is under the heaven. Future generations will say: We had a home once and I wish my people had held that land. That is why I want to save this home for the generation that is to come. Let us send our children to school and let them learn to read and write. They are learning now and if they grow to be men they will want to hold that land worse than we do now. Then they can learn out of those law books, and they can say that they have a home as long as the land is under the heaven.

Nevertheless, the Commissioner was not swayed, and after four more years, Ms. Clarke submitted her final schedule of allotments. On 7 December 1899, the allotments were approved by the acting Secretary of the Interior.

The allotment policy was a disaster for all Indians, not just the Otoe-Missouria. Alloted lands became sliced into smaller and smaller parcels, tied up in complicated heirships, which made them suitable for nothing more than leasing or selling. In 1933, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, admitted that the program “turned out to be principally an instrument to deprive the Indians of their lands.” A year later Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which reversed its earlier position and ended further allotment.

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