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 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 an allotment plan and dissolution of the reservation system. One of the consequences was the creation of rolls of the members of the five tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole). The rolls were needed to assign the allotments and to provide an equitable division of all monies obtained. 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 in 1898 which had a provision 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 themselves off as Indian but were later rejected. The reason they applied to the Dawes Rolls was because they wanted 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-blood 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. Generally, though, to prove membership in any of the Five Civilized Tribes you must prove descent from a person listed as a citizen on the final 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 and the federal government uses them in determining status 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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