Indian Citizenship Act

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

Until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Indians occupied an unusual status under federal law. Some had acquired citizenship by marrying white men. Others received citizenship through military service, by receipt of allotments, or through special treaties or special statutes.

But many were still not citizens, and they were barred from the ordinary processes of naturalization open to foreigners. Congress took what some saw as the final step on June 2, 1924 and granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.

The granting of citizenship was not a response to some universal petition by American Indian groups. Rather, it was a move by the federal government to absorb Indians into the mainstream of American life. No doubt Indian participation in World War I accelerated the granting of citizenship to all Indians, but it seems more likely to have been the logical extension and culmination of the assimilation policy. After all, Native Americans had demonstrated their ability to assimilate into the general military society.

There were no segregated Indian units as there were for African Americans. Some members of the white society declared that the Indians had successfully passed the assimilation test during wartime, and thus they deserved the rewards of citizenship.

The Indian Citizenship Act conferred citizenship to Indians born in the country. Before the Citizenship Act, the citizenship status for many Native Americans was ambiguous. Prior to the Civil War, Indian citizenship was typically limited to Indians of one half or less Indian blood. The ratification of the 14th amendment, making all those who were born here U.S. citizens, did not clarify citizenship for Indians. Native Americans were granted citizenship under limited circumstances such as marrying a U.S. citizen, serving in the military, or through treaties.

“BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and house of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen 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. (Approved June 2, 1924)”