The Dawes Rolls: The Making Of A $5 Dollar Indian

During the late 1800’s, in an effort to assimilate the Native Americans of the time into white culture the United States government passed several bills requiring the five civilized tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) to accept specific land allotments as well as register for what was called the “Dawes Rolls”.

This was supposed to be a way to determine real Indians from fake ones. They set up tents on Indian territory and had their field clerks register natives only using oral testimony and some written records to determine who were real Indians.

This less than effective screening process allowed white men looking to get their hands on a piece of guaranteed land to strike a deal, paying the commissioners five dollars under the table to be placed on the Dawes Rolls. This helped coin the term “5 dollar Indian”.

At the time, because of their distrust for the United States government, a lot of full-blooded Indians didn’t even bother registering on the Dawes rolls, which systematically shut them out from any future benefits.

So, don’t be surprised when you go to your favorite casino (most of which are on Indian reservations) and find one of the owners who says he is part “Cherokee.” In actuality, he’s nothing more than a five dollar Indian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Paying to Play Indian: The Dawes Rolls and the Legacy of $5 Indians

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