Sunday, June 2, 2013
The Unjust History of American Indian Citizenship
On this date in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act. This law would finally grant citizenship to all American Indians born within the United States. Indigenous people had been unjustly excluded from the 14th Amendment, which after the Civil War granted citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," but infamously excluded "Indians not taxed." Not being citizens meant that American Indians lacked the legal protections of others. While the signing of the Indian Citizenship Act was a positive development, it did not reverse the long line of unjust actions by Europeans and later the U.S. government toward the people who first inhabited the continent, most notably the widespread disease and war that swept the continent as a result of Whites, the forced moves during the Trail of Tears, the spread of White settlement through the Homestead Act, the establishment of the reservation system through the Dawes Act, and the Wounded Knee Massacre. However, the the fact that American Indians needed to wait over 150 years to be afforded the same legal rights as Whites helps explain the rise of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s and the takeovers of Alcatraz and Wounded Knee in the early 1970s. It is important that U.S. history teachers include the complete story when they teach about the First Nations.