June 2, 1924 – “Indian Citizenship Act” was signed

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On this day in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act also known as the Snyder Act, proposed by Representative Homer P. Snyder (R). The act granted citizenship to about 125,000 of 300,000 native people living in the United States and to the people who had served in the Armed Forces during World War I. While the 14th Amendment had defined citizens as any person born in the United States, it covered only persons “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” In 1884, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted that clause as excluding indigenous peoples.

Even in the late 1930s, however, seven states were still refusing to grant voting rights to Indians. Their reasons, they said, were that Indians were exempt from paying real estate taxes and lived on lands controlled by the federal government. By 1947, all states with large Indian populations, except Arizona and New Mexico, had extended voting rights to Native Americans who had qualified under the 1924 act. Finally, in 1948, the last two holdouts were obliged to withdraw their bans on Indian voting under federal court rulings.

Under the 1924 Act, autochthonous people did not have to apply for compatriot, nor did they have to give up their tribal citizenship to become a U.S. citizen. Dual citizenship was allowed as most tribes had communal property, and to have a right to the land, individual Indian people needed to belong to the tribe. Earlier views on granting Indian citizenship had suggested allocating land to individuals. Of such efforts, the Dawes Act was the most eminent. That Act allocated once-tribally-owned land to individual tribal members, and because they were landowners and eventually would pay taxes on the land and become “proficient members of society”, they could be granted citizenship. This idea was presented by a group of white American citizens, called “Friends of the Indian,” who lobbied for the assimilation of indigenous people into American society. They specifically hoped to do that by elevating indigenous people to the status of US citizens. Though the Dawes Act allocated land, the notion that this should be directly tied to citizenship was abandoned in the early 20th century in favour of a more direct path to American citizenship.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, some 160 Indian tribes or villages adopted written constitutions under the provisions of the 1934 act. Through the revolving credit fund established by the legislation, many Indians improved their economic position.

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