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, forced the Five Civilized Tribes 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. Overall the rolls are incomplete and inaccurate for the following reasons: many individuals from each tribe were not correctly documented, some individuals were entirely excluded because white census takers didn't believe an individual looked "Indian enough", families had already left Indian Territory after the Civil War, or individuals termed "Blanket Indians" refused to be enrolled because they did not trust the government. These factors created descendants whom are Native American by blood unenrollable in the tribes they descend from. Historian Kent Carter termed people who are Native American by blood, but are unable to enroll because of the previously listed factors the "Outalucks".
Tribal citizens were enrolled under several categories:
- Citizen by Blood
- New Born Citizen by Blood
- Minor Citizens by Blood
- Citizen by Marriage
- Freedmen (persons formerly enslaved by Native Americans and/or adopted by the Cherokee tribe)
- New Born Freedmen
- Minor Freedmen
- Delaware Indians (those adopted by the Cherokee tribe were enrolled as a separate group within the Cherokee)
- Citizen by Blood
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.
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 according to the Cherokee professor and activist Steve Russell, some full-bloods hiding in the Cookson Hills never did enroll. Although some Native Americans chose not to enroll, many of these Native Americans 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.
Another issue on the Dawes Rolls are people termed Five-Dollar Indians. White men paid government agents under the table in order to reap the benefits that came with having Native American blood. This fraudulent enrollment in tribes earned white men benefits which was then inherited by generations to come that don't have Native American heritage. The federal government exercised a lot of effort and energy into the Dawes Commission, but it was very difficult for both Native and American governments to keep track of who was who. Commissioners took advantage of their positions not only enrolling white men that were not descendants of any tribe, but gave away land that was supposed to be for members of a tribe. This also resulted in white people gaining the rights of citizens meaning that there are white people who have the ability to vote at large; it means political rights; it means the potential to influence tribal policy on a whole range of issues; it means people have access to health care, education and employment. While there were white men that took advantage of the system there were many authentic Native Americans who didn’t trust the government that chose not to register with the Dawes Rolls creating generations with legitimate claims to tribal enrollment and the benefits that are now excluded from being able to enroll and be citizens of their tribe.
Gregory Smithers, associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University stated:
“These were opportunistic white men who wanted access to land or food rations." “These were people who were more than happy to exploit the Dawes Commission—and government agents, for $5, were willing to turn a blind eye to the graft and corruption.”
The Rolls remain important today, as several tribes use descent from Dawes Roll members as a requirement for tribal membership even though the rolls are incomplete and inaccurate. The federal government uses them in determining blood-quantum status of individuals for Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood.
- BROOKE JARVIS (2017). "Who Decides Who Counts as Native American?". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
- Celia E. Naylor (2009). "African Cherokees in Indian Territory: From Chattel to Citizens". University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
- Kent Carter (2009). "The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914". Ancestry Publishing. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
- Russell (2002) p72
- Landry, Alysa (27 March 2017). "Paying to Play Indian: The Dawes Rolls and the Legacy of $5 Indians". IndianCountryToday.com. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- Russell, Steve (2002). "Apples are the Color of Blood". Critical Sociology Vol. 28, 1, 2002, p. 65
- Index to The Final Rolls: of Citizens and Freedmen of the Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. U.S. Department of the Interior. ISBN 978-1544859316.
- (Dawes Roles) The Final Rolls: of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. U.S. Department of the Interior. ISBN 1544928858.