The Dawes Allotment Act, or General Allotment Act of 1887 divided up reservation land among the members of the many tribes throughout the Unites States. By dividing up the land and distributing the land to individuals, the Federal Government thought they would help assimilate the American Indian into mainstream American culture. Lawmakers realized after the fact that the Allotment Act was flawed in many ways and knew that it required additional revisions to close loopholes and help assure its success. The most significant revision came in the form of The Burke Act, approved in Congress on May 8th, 1906.
The questions of Citizenship of Indians was worrisome to many because the Liquor restriction laws prevented the sale of liquor to Indians, but not Indians who were citizens of the United States. By law it was illegal to sell alcohol of any kind to any Indian, regardless of what tribe they were from. Allotment granted citizenship to all allotment holders. The question then arose regarding the individual Indian's ties to their tribe. If they were to be considered a U.S. citizen, did legislation regarding Indians still apply? The debate went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in 1905 that an Indian who was granted citizenship was no longer a ward of the Federal Government therefore making them exempt from the Indian Liquor law. The Burke Act meant to reverse this effect and stated specifically that “every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made and who has received a patent in fee simple under the provisions of this act…is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States.” Since allotments were dealt out under trust status and not patent in fee status, Indians had to wait till the end of the 25 year trust period before receiving citizenship and true title ship to the land they lived on.
If there were Indians who were deemed “incompetent” by the law, there were also Indians who were considered “competent,” or “civilized,” enough to manage there own affairs, and the Burke Act sped up the process of making sure that these “capable” Indians could have their lands removed from trust status. The Secretary of the interior was given the power to issue a patent in fee simple to all those whom were deemed competent.