Citizenship for American Indians

When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including recently enslaved persons, were guaranteed the rights of citizenship. However, the amendment did not extend suffrage or grant citizenship to American Indians. The Dawes Act of 1887 was meant to prompt assimilation by establishing American Indian schools and distributing tribal land, but aspects of traditional American Indian culture were destroyed in the process. Things changed in 1924 when the Indian Citizenship Act, or Snyder Act, granted full citizenship to American Indians. However, because voting rights were left to individual states, decades passed before American Indians’ rights were fully protected throughout the nation.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; support an interpretation of a text by citing and synthesizing relevant textual evidence from...
Determine multiple central ideas of a text or texts and analyze their development; provide a critical summary.
Initiate and participate effectively with varied partners in a range of collaborative discussions on appropriate 11th - 12th grade topics, texts, and...
Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media formats in order to make informed decisions and solve problems; evaluate the...
Describe the changing conditions for American Indians during this period, including the extension of suffrage and the restoration of tribal identities and way of life.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

The student will:

  • Define citizenship and discuss the struggles that minority groups have fought to obtain it.
  • Work in groups to analyze a political cartoon from 1871.
  • Read excerpted primary source documents
  • and answer corresponding questions.
Essential and guiding questions: 

How has federal policy shaped citizenship for American Indians?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • After the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was passed, President Calvin Coolidge was adopted by the Sioux who called him “Leading Eagle, our greatest chief.” Have students investigate how other groups reacted to this legislation or how other presidents handled American Indian policy decisions.
  • Have students research current issues regarding American Indians:
    • Bear Ears National Monument Is Shrinking
    • Dakota Access Pipeline (2017) and (2018)
  • Discuss how U.S. citizenship impacted the sovereignty of tribal nations. Compare that to the ongoing debates about citizenship and statehood for U.S territories like American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

Helpful Hints


  • “Move on!” Cartoon pieces
  • Image Analysis Form Excerpts from The Statutes at Large and [The Life of Henry Mitchell] 
  • Pen/ pencil