June 2, 1924 : Coolidge Signs Indian Citizen Act

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
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Andrew Old Elk of the Crow Tribe in front of the National Museum of the American Indian. Photo: Molly Riley/Reuters.

Eighty-six years ago today, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Indian Citizen Act, granting citizenship to all indigenous people born in the United States. Over a hundred thousand Native Americans became citizens overnight, joining the 175,000 that had already assimilated either by joining the armed forces or renouncing their tribal traditions.

Although citizenship was now a birthright, recognition of those rights would remain elusive. Some states balked at the fact that some Native Americans still lived on federally protected lands and didn't pay real estate taxes. In New Mexico and Arizona, two states with high Native American populations, voting wouldn't be legalized until 1948.

Despite the law's ambiguity, Coolidge's campaign to help indigenous populations assimilate without losing their tribal traditions was largely successful, and paved the way for future reforms in the treatment of indigenous populations.

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