Opinion: Surprising origins of Native American Heritage Month

"Most Americans are not aware that citizenship in the United States was granted to indigenous peoples four years after women were granted the right to vote. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 finally made it a law that if you were a Native American, you were an American citizen. However, many states and local governments in the Southwestern and Southeastern United States continued to ignore that law until the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress during the Lyndon Johnson Administration.

Typical of the situation in the Sun Belt, the state of Georgia had laws on the books that forbade American Indians from voting, owning real estate, attending public schools or even testifying in their own behalf in court. In the early 1970s, Governor Jimmy Carter pressured the state’s General Assembly to abolish these, now unconstitutional, statutes.

The first outcries for Native American constitutional rights came in Oklahoma as a result of the dissolution of tribal governments and the allotment of parcels to former tribe members by the Dawes Act of 1895. In particular, members of the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole and Cherokee) found themselves stripped of protection by the law, when they were theoretically made citizens of the Territory of Oklahoma. Most Native American tribes that originated in the eastern United States had long traditions of women being able to vote and own property. Suddenly, the Native women were put into the quasi-citizenship situation of Caucasian women. Both Native men and women were often subjected to abuses by the courts of the Oklahoma Territory."

Get the Story:
RIchard Thorton: Native American Heritage Month has a surprising origin (Examiner.com 11/1)

Join the Conversation