Coolidge Signs Indian Citizen Act

On this day in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signs the Indian Citizen Act, granting automatic American citizenship to Native Americans born in the United States. The law attempted to finalize Indian assimilation into white culture while permitting Indians to retain some of their tribal traditions.

In an effort to improve the federal government’s relationship with Indians, Coolidge tried to appear as a strong supporter of tribal cultural rights. On personal moral grounds, Coolidge sincerely regretted the state of poverty to which many Indian tribes had sunk after decades of legal persecution and forced assimilation. After signing the Indian Citizen Act at the White House, President Coolidge, in stiff white collar and dark suit, posed with four Osage tribal leaders, three of whom had donned traditional ceremonial dress. Earlier in 1923, he met with the Committee of 100 on Indian Affairs, and in 1925, he invited a group of Sioux from the Rosebud Reservation to the White House. Two years later, President Coolidge accepted honorary tribal membership from Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear.

Still, the act Coolidge signed on June 2, 1924, skirted the issue of tribal sovereignty. Although the legislation stated 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, federal treatment of tribal sovereignty remains a troubled and ill-defined subject today.

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