The Dawes Rolls (or Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, or Dawes Commission of Final Rolls) were created by the United States Dawes Commission. The Commission, authorized by United States Congress in 1893, was required to negotiate with the Five Civilized Tribes to convince them to agree to a land allotment plan and dissolution of the reservation system.
In order to allot the communal lands, all the citizens of the five tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole) had to be registered, including freedmen who had been emancipated after the American Civil War and their descendants. The rolls were needed as the basis to assign the allotments to heads of household and to provide an equitable division of all monies obtained from sales of surplus lands. These rolls became known as the Dawes Rolls. The Dawes Commission was quickly flooded by applicants from all over the country trying to get on the rolls.
The Commission went to the individual tribes to obtain the membership lists but the first attempts were inadequate. Finally Congress passed the Curtis Act of 1898; it provided that a new roll would be taken and supersede all previous rolls.
Tribal citizens were enrolled under several categories:
More than 250,000 people applied for membership, and the Dawes Commission enrolled just over 100,000. An act of Congress on April 26, 1906, closed the rolls on March 5, 1907. An additional 312 persons were enrolled under an act approved August 1, 1914.
The rolls are, for the most part, considered complete. Some Indians did not apply because of their displeasure with the allotment process and others applied but were rejected because of the residency requirements. Also, many non-Indians of white ancestry applied to the Dawes Commission trying to pass as Indian but were later rejected through tribal consultation. They applied to be registered on the Dawes Rolls in order to qualify for land allotments. Notable among those who resisted enrollment were Muscogee Chitto Harjo (Crazy Snake), and Cherokee Redbird Smith. Both Harjo and Smith were eventually coerced into enrolling, but some full-bloods hiding in the Cookson Hills never did enroll. Although some Indians chose not to enroll, many of these Indians were later enrolled by force whether they wanted to participate or not. Some of these people were arrested and forced to enroll, while others were enrolled on their behalf by people in their communities. Since that period, the tribes have relied on the Dawes Rolls as part of the membership qualification process, using them as records of citizens at a particular time, and requiring new members to document direct descent from a person or persons on these rolls. Courts have upheld this rule even when it has been proven that a brother or sister of an ancestor was listed on the rolls but not the direct ancestor himself/herself.
The Rolls remain important today, as several tribes use descent from Dawes Roll members as a requirement for tribal membership. The federal government uses them in determining blood-quantum status of individuals for Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood.
- Russell (2002) p72
- Russell, Steve (2002). "Apples are the Color of Blood". Critical Sociology Vol. 28, 1, 2002, p. 65
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