You are here

Teaching About the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924: 100 Years On

Tuesday, May 21, 2024
President Calvin Coolidge posed with Natives, possibly from the Plateau area in the Northwestern United States, near the south lawn of the White House
President Calvin Coolidge (center) posed with Native Americans, possibly from the Plateau area in the Northwestern United States, near the south lawn of the White House. Source: Library of Congress.

This article was written in collaboration with Kristen McDaniel, Social Studies Consultant, David O'Connor, American Indian Studies Consultant, and Laura Roeker, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“As we approach the centennial commemoration of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, or the Snyder Act, we reflect on the historic recognition of Indigenous peoples of the United States as full citizens. The path to civic engagement and political equity for Native Americans has been a long and arduous journey, and the systematic barriers that continue to persist to this day. The dissonance experienced by Native communities attempting to engage with a system designed to eliminate us has lasting consequences. These barriers breed and reinforce a profound mistrust in a system that directly impacts our daily lives, hindering our ability to advocate for and safeguard our culture, lifeways, and sovereignty. Yet, we recognize that without active participation, the current system will continue to disenfranchise, harm, erase and ignore the beautiful and important contributions of Native peoples into the next century." 

--Shannon Holsey, President, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.

What Is the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924?
​​​​Please note: While the Act uses the term "Indian," terms more commonly used today are American Indian, Native American, First Nations, and Indigenous. As views change and awareness grows, it is important to understand that language can change as well.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, also known as the Snyder Act (proposed by the former United States (U.S.) Representative Homer P. Snyder) was signed into law by former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge on June 2, 1924.

The Act was seen as a significant piece of legislation for Indigenous people, communities, and nations as it granted citizenship to all American Indians born in the U.S. However, for a broader context, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed in 1870, which granted all U.S. citizens the right to vote regardless of race. It wasn't until 1924 that Indigenous people in the U.S. enjoyed the same rights and privileges granted by this amendment. Despite the fact that Indigenous people had lived in North America since time immemorial prior to colonization, they were not considered citizens of their own land.

The Act cemented the importance of and reinforced the role of Indigeneity in the United States. It was one step to move away from the disenfranchisement of and “othering” of the Native American people. While not always afforded the rights promised in the U.S. Constitution, American Indians were provided the chance to be full participants in the democratic process.

It should be noted that some Indigenous people had become U.S. citizens prior to passage of this legislation. Some became U.S. citizens through their service in the U.S. military (such as in World War I), through owning private land or property, or giving up their tribal affiliation or status, to name a few instances. 

What are the significant impacts and implications of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924?

1. The Act granted and recognized citizenship to all American Indians born in the United States, regardless of their tribal affiliation or background. The legislation granted Native Americans the same legal status and protections as other U.S. citizens. Furthermore, this legislation was seen as a significant step towards recognizing the rights and status of Indigenous people in the U.S. It was also seen as a step in addressing the historical discrimination and marginalization faced by tribal nations and communities through policies of assimilation and removal.

2. American Indians gained access to the same rights and benefits as other U.S. citizens with the passage of the Act. These rights included the right to vote in elections, access to benefits and governmental services, and owning private property. However, with the passage of the Act, Indigenous citizens in the U.S. became subject to the laws, policies, and regulations of not only their Indigenous nation, but also of local, county, state, and federal policies and laws. It is important to understand that tribal sovereignty and self-governance are unique political statuses within the United States: These were not limited with the passage of the Act.

3. With the right to vote in local, state, and federal elections, American Indians were able to participate more fully in the political process in the U.S. The Act was seen as a way to increase advocacy, representation, and visibility of Indigenous issues, not only within tribal governments, but also at other government levels. Tribal governments within the U.S. have the inherent authority to govern themselves and manage their own affairs, which can include creating and administering tribal laws and creating and maintaining their own constitutions, amongst others.

4. The Act did not require American Indians to give up their tribal citizenship or affiliations to gain U.S. citizenship. Being a citizen of a tribal nation in the U.S. is a separate and distinct concept from being a citizen in the U.S. This dual citizenship status of Native Americans helped to preserve their cultural identities, traditions, and the tribal sovereignty of Indigenous people, communities, and nations in the United States

According to Nicole Boyd, Chairwoman, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, “Indigenous people of North America have been ‘citizens’ of this land from time immemorial, as shown through our creation stories. We recognize the moral and legal need for U.S. federal laws to declare we belong to this land, we have rights, and our obligation to protect our people. We knew this already but their ways required it. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 is a celebration of their acknowledgment, not ours. Our ancestors did right by their citizenship before their acknowledgement (fighting wars, sharing knowledge, and always doing the right thing despite the horrible era) and will continue to do so as we navigate our dual citizenship in today’s society and politics. We are resilient people with beautiful ways of life and knowledge we stand ready to share as we are taught to do."

5. The Act further clarified the citizenship status of American Indians in the country. Prior to becoming law, many Indigenous people had been previously subject to conflicting laws and policies in the states in which they resided. Some states in the U.S. did not recognize this Act or legislation until the 1950s. However, with the passage of the Act, Native Americans were provided a legal framework for citizenship which was seen as a way to ensure consistent treatment under U.S. laws.

With that being said, ongoing challenges and issues continue to impact Indigenous people, nations, and communities today in the United States.


Below are a few limited example lesson plans for teaching and learning this topic that are currently available as reference. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is working on creating lessons that are aligned to our standards about topics around Indigenous studies. Until those are released, teachers are urged to use these as a springboard for designing their own lessons which both meet Wisconsin standards and cover this important topic.

For more information, please visit each of the tribal nations of Wisconsin websites along with visiting the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction American Indian Studies Program, Social Studies Education in Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin First Nations Education websites for resources and materials to incorporate Indigenous Studies topics into practice.