The Climate for Economic Opportunity has Never Been Better for Native America – Part 3 of 4

The Climate for Economic Opportunity has Never Been Better for Native America – Part 3 of 4
September 9, 2016 Darren Maxfield
John Collier

We recently reviewed the Federal policy that is now referred to as Allotment. At the time allotment was enacted, Native American tribes held 138 million acres. By 1934, this acreage was reduced by 90 million acres to 48 million acres of which over 40% was desert or semi-desert.2

There were some in the government that understood the devastating effects of the allotment policy on Native America. In 1928, the Meriam Report was prepared by the Institute for Government Research. It documented the failures of the allotment policy. This report, along with the efforts of Commissioner John Collier led to the momentous 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

Reorganization: 1934-1953

The premise behind the Indian Reorganization Act was that the tribes should be in existence permanently, the tribes’ land base should be protected, and that they should have legal entities for self-government.2

The act ended the allotment practice, and retained in trust land still held by the tribes. The surplus allotments that the Secretary of the Interior was previously authorized to sell, now were to be restored to tribal ownership (if they had not already been sold). The act also authorized the Secretary to create new reservations, which previously had been disallowed.2

The overriding success of the Act was the prevention of continued dwindling of the tribal land base. The success of this Act also created future problems regarding the land held in trust (of which more can be read about here and will be said in the fourth and final post on this topic.)

The following quotes from Commissioner John Collier (seen in the above picture) at the time of the enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act help to give a sense of the thinking behind the Act and also the paternalistic way many thought about Native Americans at this time.

“If we can relieve the Indian of the unrealistic and fatal allotment system, if we can provide him with land and the means to work the land; if, through group organization and tribal incorporation, we can give him a real share in the management of his own affairs, he can develop normally in his own natural environment. The Indian problem as it exists today, including the heaviest and most unproductive administration costs of public service, has largely grown out of the allotment system which has destroyed the economic integrity of the Indian estate and deprived the Indians of normal economic and human activity.”

“Through 50 years of “individualization,” coupled with an ever-increasing amount of arbitrary supervision over the affairs of individuals and tribes so long as these individuals and tribes had any assets left, the Indians have been robbed of initiative, their spirit has been broken, their health undermined, and their native pride ground into the dust. The efforts at economic rehabilitation cannot and will not be more than partially successful unless they are accompanied by a determined simultaneous effort to rebuild the shattered morale of a subjugated people that has been taught to believe in its racial inferiority. . . . The awakening of the racial spirit must be sustained, if the rehabilitation of the Indian people is to be successfully carried through. It is necessary to face the fact that pauperization, as the result of a century of spoliation, suppression, and paternalism has made deep inroads. Of necessity it will take time, patience, and intelligent, sympathetic help to rebuild the Indian character where it has been broken down. ” Commissioner John Collier, Extract from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1934

The enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act helped to establish stronger tribal governments that have significant control over economic life on reservations. However, at the same time, the Act imposed more Federal control and bureaucratic levels over Native economies which has aided in their continued struggle.3

Termination: 1953-1968

After World War II, the Federal policy changed again. It was determined that Native Americans should no long be dependent on the Federal government and therefore the tribes should be under the same laws, entitlements, privileges and responsibilities as other citizens of the United States.2

During this time, 109 tribes were terminated losing over 1 million acres of land.3 Over 100,000 Native Americans were relocated to urban settings in the west during this period.3

On the surface this sounds well and good. It is beneficial for any person to not be dependent on the Federal government. Federal programs and bureaucracy largely created the problems at issue. By helping to create these problems, it is incumbent on many stakeholders to be involved in the process of solving these problems, the Federal Government included.

As we will see in our next post, the policy of Termination was ended under President Lynden Johnson’s Great Society which included Natives and Native governments under Federal poverty programs, training and hiring programs.

Later posts will discuss the following period of government policy:

  • Self-determination: 1968-present1

For simplicity’s sake, I have just referred to sources for this blog post by number. The sources used for these blog posts include:

  1. The Rights of Indians and Tribes, fourth edition, chapter 1. Stephen L Pevar, ©2012
  2. American Indian Law in a Nutshell, sixth edition, chapter 2. William C Canby, Jr, ©2015
  3. Reservation Capitalism: Economic Development in Indian County, Robert J Miller © 2012
  4. Documents of United States Indian Policy, second edition, chapter 19, Francis Paul Prucha, editor ©1975, 1990

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