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CSKT leaders reflect on 100th anniversary of Indian Citizenship Act

The Indian Citizenship Act that granted full U.S. citizenship to Indigenous people turns 100 years old on June 2
cskt chamber
Posted at 10:55 AM, May 31, 2024

PABLO — The Indian Citizenship Act that granted full U.S. citizenship to Indigenous people turns 100 years old on Sunday, June 2.

It wasn’t perfect when it was signed by Congress on June 2, 1924. And where it was supposed to give Indigenous people a pathway to voting rights, individual states continued to put up barriers.

We wanted to know how Native Americans feel about the Indian Citizenship Act 100 years later, and as we found out, it’s complicated.

“To be frank, I have never read the Act, but it is referred to as one of those keystone moments in Indian history,” noted Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Budget Director Ruth Swaney.

"I don't know how many Indian folks actually knew it was happening,” added CSKT Tribal Chairman Michael Dolson.

They are the faces of Indigenous people living in Western Montana hundreds of years ago. Many may not have lived to see the day when they were granted U.S. citizenship.

Michael Dolson
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Chairman Michael Dolson

We'll never know what they might have thought about it; that’s left up to their ancestors.

“Is it something I like? Well, I have pros and cons,” Dolson told MTN. “It definitely gives us the rights at least on paper to all the rights that a citizen has in the U.S. -- and so voting being one the big things. Definitely traveling across the United States unimpeded. There was a time when we couldn’t leave the reservation. I'm hoping those days are gone. At the same time, it also is now really – it’s kind of conflicting, opening the door to a sovereignty to our own dual citizenship.”

Dolson says the Indian Citizenship Act is a law and like any law and he worries that it’s subject to change. So, the 100th anniversary of its passage might be a time of reflection rather than celebration.

“People talk about civil rights, people talk about Indian rights…they [are] exactly the same. Civil rights, we’re looking at having the rights that citizens have and yes, Indian people wanted that. But Indian rights, can’t you just leave us alone let us do our thing in our place,” Dolson said.

It's a place that has seen so many changes, changes even Chief Charlo predicted more than 100 years ago.

"The 1920, I look at that in this last 100 years. You think about what that history has meant to just this Tribe here,” Swaney said. “And I've always went down on paper and otherwise and any discussion -- it’s the most profound century for us…because it was really the shift away from tradition to the way we are now as a people and certainly a Tribe.”

Ruth Swaney
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Budget Director Ruth Swaney.

With support from the ACLU and other voting rights organizations, the push for more fair and equal access at the ballot box for Native Americans continues across the country and here in Montana. With inspiration from their elders, tribal leaders today are not looking back.

“I think that’s what our tribes exhibit always, is that forward looking view. And that’s to preserve a future for those that aren’t yet here,” Swaney said. “I think that our people will continue to do that -- all the things we work for today. And it’s sometimes hard to reflect on that. We have to go forward learn from what has happened and do the best we can.”

The Montana ACLU will host a screening for their mini-documentary “Indigenous Voting Rights in Montana” on Sunday, June 2.

The ACLU of Montana will also honor the remarkable efforts of the 2023 American Indian Caucus members by presenting each member with the Jeanette Rankin Award.

The event will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Wilma Theater in Missoula.