Abstract

The U.S. Congress passed the General Allotment (Dawes) Act of 1887 as a part of its assimilationist plan to remake American Indians in the image of the U.S. nation. The act helped constitute a changed Native identity as it contracted reservation lines and forced an agricultural economy onto Native reservations. The Supreme Court case Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903) resulted from American Indian protests of the Dawes Act, including the argument that the assimilationist plan had been implemented against Natives' will. The resulting decision granted Congress the ultimate “plenary” power to abrogate treaties without any limits because American Indians were wards. Through an analysis of the case and Indian Commissioner reports addressing plenary power, I argue that the Lone Wolf holding served as an imperial discourse that maligned American Indian identities through a parent-child relationship. This denigration manifested through Lone Wolf's construction of American Indians as cultural wards, its reduction of Native property to commodity through a westernized economic plan, and its assimilation of Native communities into dominant U.S. culture. In addition, I contend that the Lone Wolf case solidified a wider U.S. nationalism by emboldening federal power over indigenous communities through a familial rhetorical strategy.

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