“We once enjoyed the freedom to inhabit all lands….The theory behind this act was that individual ownership of property would teach us how to live like the white man, but what it really did was divide our 1855 reservation for suyápo settlement.”–Judge Bill Johnson, As Days Go By.
This is the season when the wheeling and dealing happened to tribal lands following the Treaty of 1855. The Umatilla Indian Reservation was part of the federal government’s experiment with the land allotment process—breaking up communally held Indian reservation land into individual Indian plots–160 acres for each household. The Umatillas and the Sac & Fox of Iowa were the test subjects of allotting acreages under the Slater act of 1885. This was Congress’ answer to land speculators who were clamoring for the freeing up of Indian lands and to Congress’ own belief that Indians should stop roaming around and settle down.
Here is a quote from the CTUIR 2010 Comprehensive Plan:
“In 1885 the Slater Allotment Act was introduced and it turned into a prototype as a model for the sale of surplus Indian allotments. By 1887 the Dawes Allotment Act was in full swing and approximately 100,000 acres of the Umatilla Indian Reservation were allotted to non-Indians. Approximately 30,000 acres were put up for sale. The goal was to acculturate tribal members by intermixing non-Indians amongst tribal members. By doing this, Indian culture, religion, tradition, leadership and government would be destroyed and the Indians would enter the American melting pot. Most of this allotted land was inevitably used for agriculture, specifically wheat and livestock.
Indian agents on the reservations were ordered to educate and ‘civilize’ the Indians, which meant missionaries, schools, apprenticeships, farming, and the allotment of lands. By 1890, Indian Treaty Lands in the United States had been reduced by half. The Umatilla Reservation, through the Allotment, or Dawes Act of 1887, was reduced from 245,699 acres to 158,000 acres. Many forced fee patents were issued to individuals who were described as being competent by the agent and his committee from town. Much of the 87,699 acres that was not allotted, was purchased by land speculators, timber, or sheep industries.”
Subsequently, the Umatilla Indian Reservation became heavily checker-boarded with non-Indian land ownership.
The Walla Walla Treaty of 1855 had been ratified March 8, 1859. The Slater Allotment Act was enacted March 3, 1885. The Dawes General Allotment Act that applied to Indian lands across the U.S. was approved by Congress February 8, 1887. Thankfully, in 1917, according to As Days Go By, Billy Joshua and Otis Halfmoon successfully proposed a bill to Congress to further allot land to children enrolled on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. It’s good to know what the ancestors did on our behalf, and for that we must be grateful.