Indian Policy, U.S.

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U.S. Indian policy during the American Revolution was disorganized and largely unsuccessful. At the outbreak of the war, the Continental Congress hastily recruited Indian agents. Charged with securing alliances with Native peoples, these agents failed more often than they succeeded. They faced at least three difficulties. First, they had less experience with Native Americans than did the long-standing Indian agents of the British Empire. Second, although U.S. agents assured Indians that the rebellious colonies would continue to carry on the trade in deerskins and beaver pelts, the disruptions of the war made regular commerce almost impossible. Britain, by contrast, had the commercial power to deliver trade goods on a more regular basis. And third, many Indians associated the rebellious colonies with aggressive white colonists who lived along the frontier. Britain was willing to sacrifice these colonists in the interests of the broader empire (as it had done in the Proclamation of 1763), but for the colonies, visions of empire rested solely on neighboring Indian lands. Unable to secure broad alliances with Indian peoples, U.S. Indian policy during the Revolution remained haphazard, formed by local officials in response to local affairs.

Origins of the Civilization Policy, 1783–1800

At the conclusion of the American Revolution, the United States announced that it had conquered hostile Indian nations. In theory, all that remained was to settle treaties in which the defeated parties yielded to the demands of the victor. (The 1783 Treaty of Paris established peace between Britain and the United States and granted the new nation sovereignty over eastern North America, but made no mention of Native Americans.) The financial needs of the young Republic in part shaped this policy decision, for the United States hoped to use Indian lands to pay off the federal debt. Between 1784 and 1786, it signed a series of treaties with Ohio Indians that provided for massive, unremunerated land cessions. The treaties were disastrous for all involved. Indians protested vehemently against the cessions and made their point by attacking white colonists who moved aggressively onto their lands.

In light of these conflicts, Secretary of War Henry Knox reshaped U.S. Indian policy in 1786. Knox believed that the policy of conquest was both immoral and impractical. The United States had no right to take Indian lands without purchasing them, he said, and any attempt to seize lands would stain the reputation of the Republic. Moreover, the United States did not have the resources to fight Indian wars in the West. Knox instead developed a two-part plan. First, the United States would purchase Indian lands, which would be far less expensive than fighting for them. Second, the federal government would "civilize" Indians by instructing them in the economic and social practices of white Americans, thereby making them more willing to part with their vast hunting territories.

Subsequent treaties in both the South and the Old Northwest recognized Indian land title, but Knox's policy did not end hostilities. White colonists continued to stream onto Indian lands in Ohio Country, precipitating frequent and violent encounters. In 1790 and 1791, punitive expeditions undertaken by the United States ended in great victories for the Delawares, Shawnees, Miamis, and Algonquians in the Old Northwest. The defeat of Arthur St. Clair's forces in 1791 produced more American casualties than any other similar encounter in U.S. history (900 men killed or wounded). Nevertheless, in 1794, Anthony Wayne defeated the Indian alliance at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The following year, the Treaty of Greenville opened all but the northwestern third of what later became Ohio to white colonization.

The Indian Policy of Thomas Jefferson, 1801–1824

Upon assuming office in 1801, Thomas Jefferson refined the plan of civilization. In what later became known as Jeffersonian Indian policy, the third president proposed to lead Indians from savagery to civilization by instructing men in agriculture and women in the domestic arts (house-hold tasks such as spinning and weaving cloth). According to Jefferson, Indians—when versed in English, arithmetic, and Christianity—could eventually be incorporated into the Republic. His policy revealed an Enlightenment faith in progress and human reason; excepting Africans, he asserted, all humans had the innate ability to reason and to improve themselves. This apparently benevolent policy presumed the inferiority of indigenous cultures and predicted—in fact, encouraged—the disappearance of Native Americans as separate and distinct peoples.

Jeffersonian Indian policy ultimately failed. Its failure is best measured by the emergence of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the early nineteenth century. Drawing on a Native tradition of visionary revivalism, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa began urging Ohio Native Americans to return to their traditional ways. In 1810, Tecumseh traveled south to ask the Creeks and others to join him in a united attack against white colonists. Although most leaders rejected his plea, thousands of common Creeks and Seminoles, disillusioned with the plan of civilization, launched their own resistance to white authority. In the Old Northwest, Tecumseh's movement ended with the British and Indian defeat in the War of 1812. In the Southeast, it culminated in the Creek War of 1813 and 1814, in which U.S. troops put an end to radical resistance in the region.

Prelude to Removal

The Indian wars in the Old Northwest and the South, coupled with a rising demand by planters for southern cotton lands, led to more virulent attitudes toward Indians in the 1810s and 1820s. These attitudes would culminate in the 1830s with a formal government program to remove all Indians living east of the Mississippi River to territories in the West. Knox and Jefferson had insisted that the social and physical distinctions between Native peoples and whites were purely a product of environmental differences. They believed that, if raised in a patriarchal household in a democratic republic, clothed in European garb, and fed on a diet of domesticated beef, Indians would eventually look and behave like white Americans. By the 1820s, however, some Americans began asserting that there were immutable racial differences between Indians and whites. Since racial differences were immutable, these Americans argued, the plan of civilization was naïve at best and cruel and destructive at worst. Backed by the weight of science, they argued that removal would better serve Native peoples.

In fact, removal was first proposed by Jefferson in 1803, when he suggested that the Louisiana Purchase might provide eastern Indians with a new homeland. But it was not until the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828 that removal received the full support of the federal government. Jackson, a Tennessee frontiersman, a southerner, and an old Indian fighter, showed great consideration for the demands of his white compatriots and little sympathy for Native peoples. The combination did not bode well for Indians. In his first State of the Union address in 1829, Jackson outlined his plan to remove Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi River. A year later, Jackson's removal policy became law. The law did not appear to condone coercion, but no matter; where Indians refused to relocate, federal troops drove them westward at gun-point. By the end of the 1830s, tens of thousands of Indians had been forced off their eastern homelands.


Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Horsman, Reginald. Expansion and American Indian Policy: 1783–1812. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967.

McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Policy in the Formative Years: The Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, 1780–1834. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Rogin, Paul. Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian. New York: Knopf, 1975.

Sheehan, Bernard W. Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1973.

Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

———. Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1999.


See alsoCreek War ; Fallen Timbers, Battle of ; Greenville Treaty ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Removal ; Indians in the Revolution ; Tippecanoe, Battle of .


Between 1830 and 1900, Indians in the United States experienced dramatic change, such that by the turn of the century, most Indians were confined to impoverished reservations or on allotments carved out of those lands, where government officials exerted profound influence over many aspects of their lives. While policy in and of itself did not always produce this dramatic reversal in fortune, government initiatives consistently favored non-Indian interests and consistently undermined tribal ambitions.


Debates over Andrew Jackson's plan for Indian removal dominated policy discussions in 1830. Scarcely a novel idea, given generations of dispossession, Jackson's proposal broadened the pace and intensity of removal by relocating eastern Indians to western lands acquired via the Louisiana Purchase. Supported by settlers, as well as humanitarians who considered migration, the Indians' best hope for survival, the Indian Removal Act passed Congress in 1830 over the strong objections of critics who considered it a stain on the national honor.

But Indian removal proved quite complicated when applied to the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles) of the Southeast, whose populations included "elite" classes of educated individuals who had embraced many aspects of Anglo-American culture. Shocked by Jackson's removal bill and Georgia's determination to extinguish by legislative fiat their recently founded republic, Cherokee leaders like John Ross lobbied Congress and appealed to the United States Supreme Court. This effort bore mixed results that proved highly significant for Indian peoples over the longer term, but were of little practical value to the Cherokees of the 1830s. In a pair of landmark decisions, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the Court ruled that Cherokees—and by extension all Indian nations—stood in a position of "domestic dependency" to the United States government. But while this constituted a reduced sovereignty, the Court also ruled that these same Indian nations lay outside the authority of individual states.

The Worcester decision declared Indian tribes an exclusively federal responsibility, and therefore should have protected the Cherokees, but Jackson refused to enforce the Court's will, and the resulting settler pressure moved tribes to sign removal agreements. Between 1831 and 1845, 45,000 of 60,000 eastern Indians endured painful relocation. Cherokees suffered famously, losing perhaps one-third of the 12,000 refugees who set out on the Trail of Tears. Forced to rebuild their lives and nations in the unfamiliar lands of Indian Territory, the Five Tribes later were forced to surrender lands as punishment for siding with the Confederacy. In 1898, the Curtis Act abolished their governments and subdivided their tribal domains.

Westward Expansion

Indian policy then turned westward, first focusing on securing overland corridors for white migrants, then developing into an effort to consolidate western peoples on large reservations. In California, the rush of miners seeking gold decimated indigenous populations, and some fell victim to a legislatively sanctioned bounty system that encouraged murder. In Oregon and Washington, sporadic violence and pressure from settler interests led to a comprehensive set of land surrender treaties negotiated by the territorial governor Isaac I. Stevens in the 1850s. While these treaties consolidated northwestern tribes on small parcels of land, they also recognized aboriginal fishing rights that proved decisive in twentieth-century fishing rights cases.

In the vast central region of the United States, settlers encountered significant populations of Plains peoples. At Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in 1851 an agreement designated, on paper, boundaries between major northern Plains tribes. Government negotiators concluded a similar agreement for the southern Plains at Fort Atkinson, Kansas, in 1853, but, as it turned out, neither agreement reduced intertribal conflict or minimized encounters with migrants. The more numerous and powerful Plains peoples, such as the Lakotas in the north, had little reason to participate in the extension of U.S. Indian policy over their homelands. Politically decentralized, with multiple and shifting leadership patterns, Plains societies also operated in ways not well suited to the expectations of treaty negotiators. Consequently, it remained an open question whether Native representatives held the authority either to make promises or to enforce treaty provisions, a problem exacerbated by faulty translations and less-than-candid treaty negotiators.

This combination of shifting power relations between tribes and the virtual certainty of misunderstandings between whites and Indians combined with the increasing pace of settlement to produce conditions ripe for conflict. When the Dakota conflict of 1862 and the horrific slaughter of Southern Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes at Sand Creek in 1864 presaged a new era of violent, and expensive, confrontation, policy makers attempted to reorient policy. At Medicine Lodge in 1867 and Fort Laramie in 1868, the distribution of gifts and promises led to Native endorsement of a plan that envisioned the consolidation of all western tribes on a few large reservations. The first components of what became known as the "peace policy," this effort also included placing the nomination and monitoring of Indian agents under the direction of religious denominations, the creation of the Board of Indian Commissioners to oversee the conduct of Indian policy, and, in 1871, the formal end of treaty making.

Inaugurated with great fanfare, the peace policy foundered almost immediately. Religious denominations proved no more effective in managing Indian agents than their civilian or military counterparts, corruption and mismanagement remained rampant, and, most significantly, the peace policy simply failed to keep the peace. In fact, the 1870s witnessed the last major surge of Indian-white violence, as Indians, predictably, rejected the government's demand that they surrender their way of life and relocate to reservations. They succumbed only after the destruction of bison herds and continued harassment at the hands of the military rendered independent life impossible.

Reservations and Allotment

Although intended as temporary "way stations" on the road toward assimilation, reservations were little more than grim prisons, where defeat, demoralization, and malnutrition produced a poverty of mind, body, and spirit. Self-styled "friends of the Indian" also found the results disappointing; concluding that tribalism was the Indian's problem and a strong dose of individuality its cure, they proposed another reorientation of Indian policy. Included was the creation of a system of off-reservation boarding schools modeled after Richard Henry Pratt's Carlisle Indian Industrial School (founded 1879). Designed around the motto "save the man, kill the Indian," off-reservation boarding schools isolated Indian children from their parents and subjected them to military discipline, all designed to strip them from their cultural moorings and render them more "assimilable." Thousands of Indian children passed through the boarding school system, and while many considered the experience tolerable, more found the isolation excruciating and the education more oriented toward producing manual laborers than leaders or professionals. Hundreds of children also perished at the schools.

Allotment, the other part of the 1880s assimilation program, involved subdividing reservation lands and assigning homesteads of 160, 80, or 40 acres to individuals or heads of families. Formalized in the 1887 Dawes General Allotment Act, allotment must rank among the most far-reaching, and damaging, of U.S. Indian policies. Designed to promote assimilation through values associated with private property holding, the Dawes Act proved more successful as a tool of dispossession. Granted U.S. citizenship upon the assignment to an allotment, Indian landholders remained subject to the authority of the Indian Office, which distributed assistance and enacted restrictions on religious practices and the most intimate details of life. Just as significantly, Indian landholders did not hold full title to their allotments. Designated the "trust period," and inserted into the Dawes Act to hamper the activities of swindlers, this measure prohibited Indians from selling allotments or entering into any contract touching upon the land for a period of twenty-five years.

Indians responded to the Dawes Act in a variety of ways. Some attempted to resist, but after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903), it was clear that the federal government had the intention of imposing allotment, even if it violated the terms of treaties. Others attempted to live with allotment, and some succeeded in such a wide variety of ways as to demonstrate again Indian creativity and resilience. But as trust restrictions were weakened to permit leasing and sale of allotments, Indians increasingly lost control over their lands. By 1934 and the end of the allotment policy, the total Indian land base stood at about 52 million acres, down dramatically from the 150 million acres in 1880. Land loss translated to deepening poverty and social fragmentation. These twin results of allotment cleared the way for the Burke Act of 1906, which abolished the trust period for "competent" Indians, extended it indefinitely for those deemed "incompetent," and amounted to a pessimistic assessment of Indian capabilities. Now, "friends of the Indian" embraced the increasingly common conclusion that there would be a permanent Indian "under-class," at least as long as any distinctively "Indian" peoples survived.


Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

Deloria, Vine, Jr., and Clifford M. Lytle. American Indians, American Justice. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

Harring, Sidney L. Crow Dog's Case: American Indian Sovereignty, Tribal Law, and United States Law in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Hoxie, Frederick E. Parading Through History: The Making of the Crow Nation in America, 1805–1935. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

———. The Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1888–1920. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

McDonnell, Janet A. The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887–1934. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green, eds. The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford, 1995.

Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. 2 vols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Utley, Robert M. The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846–1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.

Brian C.Hosmer

See alsoCherokee Nation Cases ; Indian Boarding Schools ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Reservations ; Removal Act of 1830 ; Sand Creek Massacre ; Trail of Tears ; Wars with Indian Nations ; andvol. 9:A Century of Dishonor ; Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 .


A complex mixture of forces shaped federal Indian policy in the twentieth century including the reform impulse among many humanitarians, regional economic pressures, Congress, federal agencies, missionaries, and Indian leaders. The relative weight of these forces varied throughout the decades.

The Allotment Policy

Federal Indian policy of the twentieth century cannot be understood without examining land allotment in the late nineteenth century. The basic feature of allotment was the assignment of tribal land to individual Indians. Although some 11,000 allotments were made prior to 1885, the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 guided the allotments afterward. The statute authorized the president to order the assignment of allotments to all enrolled Indians on reservations. Plots of 160 acres went to family heads; unmarried individuals eighteen or older and orphans received eighty acres; and those under eighteen were assigned forty acres. To guard against their sale, the law placed allotments under federal trust for twenty-five years, which meant the land could not be encumbered or sold. Allottees automatically gained U.S. citizenship.

The allotment policy was primary the work of eastern reformers who believed that education, Christian conversion, and allotment would end tribalism and traditional life, and Indians would quickly assimilate. Unfortunately, allotment caused huge land losses. In 1881, Indians held 155,632,312 acres of land, and by 1900, the figure had fallen to 77,865,373 acres. Despite these staggering losses, allotment and assimilation remained the centerpieces of Indian policy until 1933.

Early Twentieth Century

While the allotment-assimilation policy continued, several changes developed after 1900. The historian Frederick E. Hoxie, for example, has argued that Progressive reformers doubted Indians' ability to assimilate and relegated them to a menial social position. Other scholars have emphasized Progressives' policy goal of self-support after 1900, especially through irrigated farming and out-side employment. Progressives also looked for a way to screen Indians to remove the more capable from government trust protections and services. This goal apparently shaped the Burke Act of 1906. The law amended the Dawes General Allotment Act by withholding citizenship from allottees until after the twenty-five-year trust period had expired. However, allottees before then could apply for "competency" and receive their citizenship and their allotments in fee simple. Most of those declared competent quickly sold their allotments at ruinous prices.

Western regional forces also began to assert more influence over Indian policy at the turn of the century. Western mining and agricultural interests resented the presence of nontaxable reservations in this undeveloped region and sought access to Indian resources. As more western territories became states, senators and representatives from the region dominated the Senate and House committees on Indian Affairs. Westerners also held many key positions in the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Finally, federal agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service, which served powerful vested interests in the West, made sure that their constituents' needs were served. The weak BIA could seldom protect Indians against white pressures.

The policy of "forced patenting" during Commissioner Cato Sells's administration (1913–1921) epitomized Progressives' drive to "free" Indians from government control. Instead of Indians applying for competency, Sells and Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane established "competency commissions" that toured reservations screening Indians and forcing those deemed competent to take fee simple titles to allotments. In 1917, Sells's "Declaration of Policy in the Administration of Indian Affairs" ended trust protection for all allottees under one-half Indian blood and boarding-school graduates. Forced patenting left thousands of Indians landless.

1920s Reform Agitation

After World War I the allotment-assimilation policy came under attack. John Collier, a young social worker, strongly opposed legislation that threatened Pueblo land titles in the Rio Grande Valley. Even though Congress approved a compromise measure in 1924, Collier took up other complaints, including Indians' poor oil revenues, lack of religious freedom on reservations, inferior education in Indian schools, and mismanagement of Indian finances. Unlike earlier reformers, Collier challenged the assimilation philosophy that had been central to Indian affairs for four decades. Collier's approach stressed cultural pluralism and encouraged Indians to retain their own traditions.

Collier's agitation produced a major investigation. In 1926–1927, the Institute for Government Research carried out an extensive survey of BIA field administration. The group's report, The Problem of Indian Administration (1928), blamed allotment and forced patenting for widespread poverty and condemned woeful education and health services. Major recommendations included upgrading BIA employees, increased funding, and adding a division of planning and administration to the BIA. Although the Herbert Hoover administration made several improvements, it never added the new division.

The Indian New Deal and World War II

The appointment of John Collier as Indian commissioner (1933–1945) caused marked changes in Indian policy. Early on, Collier demonstrated a more dynamic approach by arranging cooperative agreements with emergency programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration. These programs brought unprecedented expertise, funds, and employment opportunities to reservations. Collier's policy of cultural pluralism was reflected largely in the Indian Reorganization Act (1934). While several provisions of the original bill were lost in passage, what remained were procedures to create tribal governments and to charter business corporations. The act also halted allotment, established a revolving credit fund, and authorized money for scholar-ships and land acquisition.

Unfortunately, Collier's policies aroused intense criticism. Many traditional Indians resented mixed-bloods' domination of the tribal governments created under the Indian Reorganization Act. Other Indians believed Collier jeopardized past progress. White economic interests lashed the BIA when it blocked their use of reservation resources. This opposition and budget cuts kept the Collier administration on the defensive after 1938. The Indian New Deal softened the impact of the depression on Indians, but it was not a complete success.

World War II made Indian policy far less relevant than usual. Sensing this, Collier tried unsuccessfully to create an all-Indian army division in 1940. Two years later, he arranged with the War Relocation Authority to place Japanese Americans in camps on the Gila River and Colorado River reservations. The BIA also cooperated with the Selective Service in the registration and drafting of Indians. Despite such cooperation, the BIA was removed to Chicago in 1942, key personnel left the agency, budget cuts reduced services, and Collier remained on the defensive. The drift and stalemate of the BIA continued after Collier's resignation in 1945.


The appointment of Dillon S. Myer as Indian commissioner (1950–1953) ended the policy hiatus and initiated the termination policy. This policy involved ending BIA services by transferring them to other federal agencies or to states and the relocation of Indians to urban centers. In late 1951, Myer formed the Division of Program to gather data on reservations and to study ways to end BIA services. He soon ordered local agency employees to develop plans, with or without Indian cooperation, but the Republican victory in 1952 stalemated Myer's efforts.

Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, became the architect of termination in 1953. House Concurrent Resolution 108, passed in August 1953, endorsed termination and ordered Department of the Interior officials to prepare termination legislation for individual tribes by 1 January 1954. Public Law 280 gave several states legal jurisdiction over reservations and permitted other states to extend jurisdiction unilaterally.

In February 1954, Senator Watkins and Representative E. Y. Berry of South Dakota started joint hearings on termination bills. Significant opposition arose during the proceedings. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) initially seemed unconcerned about the new policy but later strongly fought against termination. State officials during the hearings expressed reluctance about providing services to Indians unless compensated with federal funds. Other critics denounced the Indians' lack of preparation for termination. Over the next few years, Congress terminated eleven groups involving 13,263 Indians. Although this represented about 3 percent of enrolled Indians, termination caused tremendous hostility and anxiety.

Indian Commissioner Glenn L. Emmons (1953–1961) intensified the existing relocation program soon after his appointment. In 1956, he added job training to relocation. However, critics charged that relocation was a cruel attempt to force assimilation. Surprisingly, however, most Indians who left reservations did so on their own; only 25 percent of them relocated to cities because of the federal program.


The inauguration of John F. Kennedy marked the start of self-determination, or allowing Indians greater voice in policy matters. Several events in 1961 signaled the new approach. Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall quickly appointed a four-man study group to look at current Indian problems and suggest solutions. The panel's report on 7 October 1961 outlined three basic policy goals: economic self-sufficiency, greater Indian participation in American life, and equal citizenship. Also in 1961, the Commission on Rights, Liberties, and Responsibilities of American Indians filed a report that condemned termination as an ill-advised and hasty policy and demanded more government assistance to elevate Indians' standard of living. Finally, a meeting of 450 Indian leaders at the University of Chicago in June 1961 produced the Declaration of Indian Purpose, which advocated greater Indian control over policy making.

Kennedy's Indian commissioner, Philleo Nash (1961–1966), tried to end Indians' fears about termination. An anthropologist and experienced government administrator, Nash spent many months visiting Indian leaders and trying to restore confidence in the BIA. The Area Redevelopment Act of 1961 was a harbinger of future Indian affairs. It targeted areas of high unemployment and low income for loans and grants, and this included virtually all reservations. The funds that flowed to reservations through these antipoverty grants tended to break the BIA's monopoly on delivery of government services.

The trend of federal funding administered apart from the BIA increased during President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. The Economic Opportunity Act of August 1964, for example, provided education and training benefits and allowed local initiatives. By mid-1968, sixty-three community action programs existed on 129 reservations. Indian policy had, in the meantime, become highly diffuse as more and more federal agencies offered services to reservations. President Johnson's executive order of 6 March 1968 established the National Council on Indian Opportunity to coordinate the many Indian programs. Chaired by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the council was made up of five cabinet officers, the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and six Indian leaders. These developments strengthened tribal governments and taught local leaders how to lobby Congress and federal agencies.

During the 1968 campaign, Richard M. Nixon emphatically repudiated termination and promised Indian participation in major policy decisions. He repeated the same promises in his own special message to Congress in 1970. His contributions to self-determination included proposals that tribes be allowed to contract for services and that Indian school boards oversee education.

The Nixon administration policies took place during a highly charged period. The American Indian Movement and other militant groups organized fish-ins, occupied Alcatraz, seized the BIA building, and occupied the village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Turmoil also erupted within the BIA as young Indian administrators clashed with conservative old hands. During major crises, White House staffers preempted BIA administrators, thereby undermining their authority.

The Red Power movement reshaped policy but not in ways that met protestors' demands. Nixon officials responded to each crisis with face-saving settlements but made few concessions. The government frequently isolated militants by co-opting moderate groups such as the NCAI and the National Tribal Chairmen's Association. A good example of this strategy was authorizing the American Indian Policy Review Commission in 1975. This major investigation of Indian affairs consisted of eleven task forces made up almost entirely of Indians. The group's final report in May 1977 repeatedly advocated Indian sovereignty and the creation of an assistant secretary of interior for Indian affairs to help formulate policy. President Jimmy Carter established the new position later in the year. Congress also passed an unprecedented amount of legislation in the 1970s. Several laws dealt with Indian education, and others covered health care, civil rights, community colleges, child welfare, and religious freedom. Finally, Indians turned to the courts, where they won significant victories on such issues as hunting and fishing rights, tribal jurisdiction, gaming, and water rights. Case law, in effect, has often become policy since World War II.


Fixico, Donald L. The Invasion of Indian Country in the Twentieth Century: American Capitalism and Tribal Natural Resources. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1998.

Hoxie, Frederick E. A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Kvasnicka, Robert M., and Herman J. Viola, eds. The Commissioners of Indian Affairs, 1824–1977. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.

Olson, James S., and Raymond Wilson. Native Americans in the Twentieth Century. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1984. Parman, Donald L. Indians and the American West in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. 2 vols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Donald L.Parman

See alsoEducation, Indian ; Indian Civil Rights Act ; Indian Political Life ; Indian Reservations ; Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act ; Wounded Knee (1973) ; andvol. 9:Land of the Spotted Eagle .

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