The Curtis Act of 1898 was an amendment to the United States Dawes Act; it resulted in the break-up of tribal governments and communal lands in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory: the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, and Seminole. These tribes had been previously exempt from the 1887 General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) because of the terms of their treaties. In total, the tribes immediately lost control of about 90 million acres of their communal lands; they lost more in subsequent years.
The act also transferred the authority to determine members of tribes to the Dawes Commission as part of the registration of members. Thus, individuals could be enrolled as members without tribal consent. By effectively abolishing the remainder of tribal courts, tribal governments, and tribal land claims in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, the act enabled Oklahoma to be admitted as a state, which followed in 1907.
Officially titled the “Act for the Protection of the People of Indian Territory”, the Act is named for Charles Curtis, congressman from Kansas and its author. He was of mixed Native American and European descent: on his mother’s side -Kansa, Osage, Potawatomi, and French; and on his father’s – three ethnic lines of British Isles ancestry. Curtis was raised in part on the Kaw Reservation of his maternal grandparents, but also lived with his paternal grandparents and attended Topeka High School. He read law, became an attorney, and later was elected to the United States House of Representatives and Senate. He served as Vice-President under Herbert Hoover.
In the usual fashion, by the time the bill HR 8581 had gone through five revisions in committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, there was little left of Curtis’ original draft. In his hand-written autobiography, Curtis noted having been unhappy with the final version of the Curtis Act. He believed that the Five Civilized Tribes needed to make changes. He thought that the way ahead for Native Americans was through education and use of both their and the majority cultures, but he also had hoped to give more support to Native American transitions.