February 8, 1887
“Congress enacts legislation that allots 160-acre tracts of land to heads of households of American Indian families. The rest of the reservation land is thrown open to non-Indian homesteaders. Eventually, Native-held lands are reduced by more than two thirds.” *
“The act “was the culmination of American attempts to destroy tribes and their governments and to open Indian lands to settlement by non-Indians and to development by railroads.” Land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres in 1934.
Senator Henry M Teller of Colorado was one of the most outspoken opponents of allotment. In 1881, he said that allotment was a policy “to despoil the Indians of their lands and to make them vagabonds on the face of the earth.” Teller also said, “the real aim [of allotment] was “to get at the Indian lands and open them up to settlement. The provisions for the apparent benefit of the Indians are but the pretext to get at his lands and occupy them….If this were done in the name of Greed, it would be bad enough; but to do it in the name of Humanity…is infinitely worse.” **
Messiah, there is such a gap between intent and actions. One the one hand, the Dawes Act points to a desire to respect the property of Native Americans. On the other hand, it ‘gives’ them title to land if they accept the conditions. Is this freedom, or fiefdom?
First, as a human being and fellow Minnesotan, I want to acknowledge our sin of envy. We are not content with what we have. Lord forgive us the envy contained in the Dawes Act of Native lands! Will You heal the whole inheritance of envy, and heal the lands that were annexed unjustly?
Second, I want to acknowledge the mixed motives of our hearts! I acknowledge the honest desire of many at this time that Native peoples assimilate and become one people with the United States, and with Minnesota. Many were motivated by a desire to share ‘common ground’ figuratively and literally with Indians. As in “I’m a simple Norwegian farmer who is trying to start a new life in America. What does my indian neighbor have against me? I used to hunt and fish with him. I’m not a land man for the railways, or a representative of the Department of the Interior, but their actions make me the bad guy to my Indian neighbors.”
Many Natives did not want to not feel the pains of being a foreign enclave in their homelands. While they resisted many aspects of Western Culture, they also admired and even craved some of its fruits: new technologies and techniques, trade for useful products, positive interactions with new neighbors, etc. They seemed to both admire and fear the new culture in their land. Some Natives willfully accepted new ways, and others did not.
Lord, have mercy on these hearts! Some on both sides of this divide, whether Immigrant or Indian, wanted to take a chance and embrace. Some were repelled by clashing with another culture. Lord forgive how we have feared our brother’s ways, and rejected what You have to teach us through him! Lord, forgive us our hesitancy to trust! Will you restore us to chesed? ***
Next, I want to acknowledge that both cultures succumbed to the “power men” within them. There were plenty of Minnesotans willing to capitalize on the imbalance of power the Dawes Act gave them! Too many tried to moralize the outright theft of property! They claimed desires to civilize native peoples to gain public approval for their land grab. Nothing changes. they are still among us. However, I mourn before you this day, and acknowledge this offense against my Native brothers! Have mercy! Will You reverse this curse? Will You restore these injustices?
Lastly, I want to acknowledge the counter judgments that some Native peoples made in response to these ‘land grabbers’. They chose to meet offense with counter offense. It is clear to see these fruits yielding a harvest of separation even today in our state.
Will You have mercy on our natural desires for vengeance stemming from the Dawes Act? Will you give us a new common inheritance as Minnesotans? Will you take the bitter roots from our hands so that we can receive from You? When we must disagree, will You teach us to do it with understanding and respect? Amen.