Assimilation

When Alaska was purchased in 1867, there were several ways in which the United States government was attempting to assimilate Indian people into mainstream America in the Lower 48  states.  ‘Assimilate’ meant giving up the Indian way of life and blend into the non-Indian society.

Boarding schools were the primary tool for assimilating Indian people. Many boarding schools were established throughout the county to educate Indian youth according to non-Indian standards. The Indian children were taken from their homes and kept away from their families for very long periods of time. The schools were primarily run by missionaries, and were often traumatic to Indian children who were forbidden to speak their Native languages and have anything to do with their Native ways. There were many documented cases of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse occurring at these schools.


In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act after its sponsor Senator Dawes from Massachusetts. The Act divided up Indian lands by allotting, not more that 160 acres to adult male tribal members, for private ownership, and then declaring the ‘left over’ land as ‘surplus’ and selling it to non-Indians.  The General Allotment Act intentionally created a checker-board pattern of land ownership, where non-natives owned the land between and around Indian lands. By dividing reservations lands into privately owned parcels, Congress hoped to assimilate Indian people by forcing the deterioration of the communal life style tribes had, and imposing the value of the nuclear family and economic dependency strictly within the small household unit. Under this Act the Indian tribes lost some 90 million acres of land, an area the size of California. The General Allotment Act is now considered a terribly destructive law, as 2/3 of the already diminished Indian lands were taken and passed into non-native ownership.

The Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906 was much different from the General Allotment Act in that Alaska Natives did not have recognized title to any lands at that point, so their land base was not divided and sold off.  Instead it was the first legal mechanism available for individual Alaska Natives to own land in Alaska.