Do Indians have US citizenship?

United States90 years of civil rights for Indians

"The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America have resolved that all Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States and not citizens are hereby declared citizens of the United States."

With the signature of President Calvin Coolidge, the "Indian Citizenship Act" entered into force on June 2, 1924.

"Justice for the Indians. What could prove to be an epochal event in American history, hardly less than the liberation of the slaves, happened almost unnoticed in Washington. This law removes an injustice that had become a national scandal,"

wrote the Los Angeles Times. Most Americans hardly took notice, however. There were only about 300,000 Indians left in the United States, no more than a quarter percent of the total population, and most of them were already US citizens. The rest were considered foreigners until 1924, because the United States treated the Indian tribes as sovereign nations.

"Overall, the status of the Indian groups has always been difficult and actually, I think, it is still best a court decision of 1831 that they are a" domestic dependent nation ". On the one hand," domestic ", within the USA and therefore also dependent on the USA. But on the other hand it is a nation. So this hybrid status, on the one hand dependent, but on the other hand sovereign, and that has not changed to this day, and that is still very complicated in the court decisions and will be in decided one direction and then in the other ",

explains the historian Heike Bungert. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the Indians were also considered to be wards of the US government because, as uncivilized savages, they could not rule themselves. After the whites penned them into reservations, it was the government's goal at the end of the 19th century to systematically destroy their cultures:

"Should he remain a poor savage, an obstacle on the path of civilization, a growing burden for the people? Or should he become a civilized taxpayer?"

Peoples' traditions prevent solidarity

Rigid measures should turn them into American citizens and give up their tribal affiliation in return. There were only exceptions for a few nations. The Indian peoples did not come together in a common struggle for their rights. Their traditions, their contractual rights vis-à-vis the USA and the degree of their adaptation to white society were too different.

White Indian rights activists and assimilated Indians celebrated it as a great step forward in 1924, "that this citizenship law allowed a kind of dual citizenship, that one could continue to be a member of the Indian group. Which was important because most Indian groups have common property, and only then If you are a member there, you can also benefit from this common property. "

Some tribes, on the other hand, viewed uninvited naturalization as a new attack on their sovereignty, explains Heike Bungert:

"Of course, some were not that enthusiastic either, because the US government was generally distrusted after all of its long history. Some were afraid that they would lose their rights within their tribal group or nation and that they would lose their identity if they were now US citizens. "

As citizens, the Indians were by no means equal. Some states denied them the right to vote for decades. To this day, tribal members are citizens of the USA and their Indian nation, who have a difficult relationship with one another. But "dual" citizenship is a matter of course for most of them - in this respect the Citizenship Act of 1924 was indeed an epoch-making event.