Institutions and American Indian Farmers: Indian Land Tenure and Farming Before the Dawes Act


"The failure of American Indians to become farmers in the twentieth century despite allotment and other federal policies designed to encourage farming is often blamed on the incompatibility of Indian institutions, including land tenure, with the requirements of settled farming. This paper tests this hypothesis by examining the nature of Indian land tenure and the division of labor between men and women in farming before and after the dates that Indians were placed on reservations. "Traditional Indian land tenures reflected the relative prices and environment in which they lived. For example, eastern agricultural tribes recognized a person's use right for land which was tilled but no one had a claim to land which was not cultivated. In the Southwest, where good land was scarce, agricultural tribes recognized rights to land even when it was not cultivated. Farming was usually done by women, with men specializing in hunting. Once tribes were placed on reservations, individual use rights to land were recognized even among nomadic tribes which had not done so previously. Census data for 1900 show that this system of land tenure allowed a number of Indians to make progress as small scale subsistence farmers prior to the implementation of the Dawes Act and that men did learn to farm. While Indians were beginning to farm prior to allotment, as I discuss in other work, Indian farming was actually discouraged by federal policies nominally designed to encourage farming and these partly account for the failure of Indian farmers after 1900."



Native Americans, land tenure and use, indigenous institutions, agriculture--history, gender, IASC