Why Did the Dawes Act Fail?

Despite intending to expand property ownership for Native Americans, the Dawes Act of 1887 failed to establish positive changes, and met resistance from Native Americans. Drafted by Senator Henry Dawes, the Dawes Act went into effect on February 8, 1887. The Dawes Act followed a long series of federal Indian policies, and proposed to alleviate poverty among Native Americans by breaking up reservations and allocating properties among families.

The Dawes Act appeared less hostile than previous policies, which advocated forceful removal of Native Americans from their homelands, and went so far as to suggest war. It proposed allocating lands to Native Americans in tribal families according to age. Oldest members received the largest parcels, while children received much less. The Dawes Act set aside large parcels of lands for Native Americans, particularly in the western states. The Dawes intended to secure land for Native Americans and prevent whites rushing westward from taking all available land, ultimately leaving natives with nothing. It also envisioned Native Americans adopting agriculture as a key economic activity. The Dawes Act reserved land for Native Americans, but that land proved ultimately worthless. Lands preserved included dry and desert parcels, unable to support farming. Inheritance given to absent children and assignments to multiple heirs caused confusion and rendered the Dawes Act a failure.