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Passed in 1906, the Burke Act built on the precedent established by the Dawes Act of 1887 (also known as the General Allotment Act), under which American Indian tribal lands were broken up into farm parcels to be owned by individual Native Americans, with the “surplus” land then made available to non-Indian settlers.

The 1840s marked an acceleration of negative contact between American Indians and the federal government. Having either eradicated or removed the tribes east of the Mississippi, a more independent Western Indian posed new problems for growing the United States. The remaining tribes were not considered citizens of the United States but, in the words of U.S. Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall, became wards of the state. Racist attitudes regarding Native Americans were ...

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