This essay cautiously compares the dispossession of Native lands in the United States with the enclosure of the English commons, in light of the transfer of political sovereignty that occurred in the case it explores. The federal policy of dividing American Indian nations' tribal lands into privately owned parcels led to the loss of Native lands and obscured the colonial nature of federal power. Following the implementation of this late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century program, known as allotment, non-Indian people gained ownership of millions of acres of Indian territory. Two neglected shifts accompanied this commonly noted loss of land. First, allotment eroded the sovereignty of Native nations while extending the authority of the colonizing power, the federal government. Second, the program indirectly reinforced a tendency to think that it was race, rather than political difference, that defined Indian people and Indian nations. Placing Native people into the schema of U.S. race relations obscured their status as colonized subjects and members of sovereign nations. Allotment thus simultaneously expanded federal power and veiled its colonial nature.

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