The Indian Citizenship Act at 100: Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Futures

19-22 juin 2024
Bordeaux Montaigne University, Esplanade des Antilles, Pessac ; tram station "Montaigne Montesquieu", line B - Pessac (France)

On June 2, 1924, following little debate and discussion in Congress and dismal public attention, President Sherman Coolidge signed into law the Snyder Act, also known as the Indian Citizenship Act (ICA). It extended citizenship to all Native people, allowing for the retention of tribal citizenship and rights, including property rights. Unlike previous drafts, the final draft of the ICA provided that tribal rights would not be affected. This law no longer made citizenship dependent on place of residence or land tenure. It held that “all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property” (Indian Citizenship Act, H.R. 6355, 68th Congress, Sess. I, Ch. 233, June 2, 1924). Although the blanket naturalization offered by the ICA in 1924 may be read as a corrective to earlier exclusionary legislation, for Native people American citizenship was an extension of colonial practices, a replacement of one civic status with another— domestic dependent, ward, or U.S. citizen—and a reflection of the American colonial ambivalence vis-à-vis Native subjects. U.S. citizenship offered the façade of a uniform membership and a civic identity that contradicted many tribal values and political allegiances. Nevertheless, the ICA did not put an end to wardship; at best, it extended federal dependence under the umbrella term of universal citizenship. The power to vote in state and federal elections remained, for a long time, the only direct benefit of citizenship. However, many states denied Native people the right to vote until the 1950s. Granting citizenship to Native people was ultimately disastrous, with few benefits for them. As legal scholar Bethany Berger has pointed out, in the name of citizenship, Native people “lost their land, their children, and their legal independence and got almost nothing in return.” Although there was significant Native support for citizenship, the ICA also met with Indigenous resistance and protest across North America. Some nations offered an outright rejection of dual citizenship; Tuscarora Chief Clinton Rickard called it “a violation of our sovereignty. Our citizenship was in our own nations.” Other Native communities used the privileges offered by American citizenship strategically to assert their Indigeneity. At the ICA's centennial, we ask: What did/does citizenship ultimately mean for Native people? This symposium brings together scholars of history, literature, law, and art to reflect on the ICA at 100. The symposium–organized by the Bordeaux Montaigne University, the Humanities Research Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Obama Institute at Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, and the University of Nebraska Press–will bring together Native and Non-native scholars from North America and Europe to reflect on past, present, and future directions in Native American and Indigenous Studies, particularly the intersections of several sub-fields in Indigenous studies. We invite contributions in/across these areas, both theoretical and historical. Previously to ICA and following ICA, how did/do Indigenous nations negotiate and represent multiple forms of belonging, including American citizenship, through various media and for multiple audiences? What is the role of the ICA in the articulation of racial, political, and social belonging within settler colonial notions of citizenship? How do conceptions of citizenship allow for imagining Indigenous futures? We invite original contributions from both early career and established scholars. Because we plan to submit work emerging from this symposium for a journal special issue and an edited collection of essays for the U of Nebraska Press, we invite original, previously-unpublished work.
Discipline scientifique :  Sciences de l'Homme et Société

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