Ais 102 American Indians and the U. S. Political System Fall 2004

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WWI and U.S. Citizenship

The overall effect of the First World War was dramatic in terms of global politics, economics and demographic patterns. Certainly it was the end of the 'Gilded Age' in the U.S. or 'La Belle Epoch' in Europe. For the men and women that experienced this war there were far more severe psychological repercussions than any previous war resulting in 'the Lost Generation'. Native Americans fought in the 'Great War' with a greater ratio of participation than any other ethnic group in America (16% in Armed Services vs. 1% in the U.S. population). For many ethnic groups and women, participation in the war effort accentuated the inequality back home and stimulated action. Civil rights demands required multiple attempts, but women got the vote in 1920 (ratification of 19th Amendment) and Native Americans got the vote and became citizens in 1924. Before this the status of Native Americans varied, but in general they were considered wards of the government. So after 1924, if a person was of a federally recognized tribe/nation, one essentially became a dual citizen. Further, if you were a veteran of the U.S. Armed Services, a third set of rights applied.


Initially the interest of anthropology was focused on physical comparisons (see Repatriation), but by the 1880's and into the first half of the 20th century ethnography became a primary concern of anthropology. By 1900 Native Americans reached an all time low population of 375,000 in North America, coinsided with the peak immigration into the United States. Language and traditional cultural activities had all but disappeared or went underground. In the name of science many ethnologists were frantically conducting interviews of the last elders with memory of their traditional cultures. Unfortunately most of these researchers did not even bother to share the information they gleaned resulting in subsequent surviving generations having very little to pass down. Also, with the passage of the Antiquity Act (1906) archaeologists intensified accumulating artifacts on behalf of museum collections and university laboratories. During the depression, with huge public works projects like TVA, archaeological excavation became part of the New Deal. Native Americans were loosing people and cultural traditions; and in some cases during the depression whole families were loosing land with the enforcement of the Allotment Act of a 1880. In Oklahoma, American Indians were being swindled in and out of the courts, and murdered for oil rich land.

Reorganization Act

As part of the New Deal the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934 as a measure to rectify the damage of the Allotment Act (1880) and the hard times of the depression. The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) attempted to restore land, revitalize traditional art and culture, and to strengthen tribal governments. Some of these goals were modestly implemented, but WWII severely rerouted funds and drained the leadership among tribal members.

Post World War IIimages/JQutoseeIHorse.jpgi

As in the Great War (WWI), Native Americans served their country by a population ratio of 16:1 and this continued in subsequent conflicts thru the Gulf War. The effect of this was to accentuate inequities in the home front and ultimately fuel new civil rights movements by many disparate groups in American society. Then the Eisenhower Administration ushered in a new Indian policy called Termination. This policy was actually precluded by a "Job Relocation Program" and followed with a House Concurrent Resolution 108 in 1953 which in effect terminated the trust relationship with many federally recognized tribes. The effect was a massive migration of Native Americans to major cities where it was obvious that the promise of economic opportunity and any semblance of equality was not going to be achieved by relocation from reservations to cities. Such disparity in conjunction with the increased loss of cultural ties from being away from traditional community and lifestyles produced grass roots movements from the urban Native Americans. As the Civil Rights Movements and Vietnam War protests revealed a greater willingness toward rebellion, urban Native Americans formed organizations like American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 . Also, because of media attention, older grass roots organizations like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) formed in 1944 continue to be active but are less visible to the public.

In 1972 AIM drew national attention with a protest march to Washington, D.C. called 'The Trail of Broken Treaties'. After a 6 day siege of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offices the press and other Native American groups like members of the National Tribal Chairman's Association (NTCA) claimed that the militants had done considerable damage to property and removed records. Such attention and accusations escalated the reputation of AIM as being violent and dangerous thus bringing in full FBI scrutiny and activity directed to separating political factions of Native American groups. This was played out with AIM returning to rural roots with seeking spiritual guidance from traditionalists at the Pine Ridge community of Ogallala in South Dakota. However, AIM's presence brought confrontation with less traditional elements of the current tribal council. In 1973 AIM occupied the small town of Wounded Knee which lasted 70 days with Federal Agents escalating the incident to an armed siege. In effect a civil war continued conflicts for three years. In 1975 a shootout erupted on Pine Ridge at Ogallala that resulted in 3 deaths, including 2 FBI agents and one Native American. Leonard Peltier was arrested and convicted for the murder of the FBI agents. Later, evidence revealed that he was not the perpetrator yet no retrial or pardon has been effected. AIM was effective in drawing attention to injustices and problems Federal Indian policy, but its reputation has also alienated both non-Indian and some American Indians.

One effect of the general shift with the civil rights movement generated policy changes by 1975 that have been referred to as Self-Determination. Certainly these shifts produced changes in three specific areas: health, economic development, and resource management. For federally recognized Native Americans the treaties supposedly provided for the future needs of Native Americans. However, the U.S. government lied and /or simply avoided their trust responsibilities. Civil rights tended to focus on equal rights in society, but for Native Americans it included the keeping of treaty promises for land and resources taken by non-Indian immigrants. When protest groups like AIM arose they were arguing mainly for recognition of treaty rights. Most Americans do not know about this and assume that the government is providing Native Americans with a special form of welfare, which is not the case. This difference and lack of understanding of the treaty relationship gives the wrong impression that the Native Americans are getting preferential treatment or that non-Indians are being treated unfairly. Americans like an equal playing field, especially in their own self interest, and such equality was designated in the treaties. It could be argued that the provisions of the treaties were woefully inadequate and further it is clear that the government has reneged on those original promises. Self determination was taken seriously by many Native American leaders and it was clear that improvement would only come with greater sovereignty and economic independence. Initially tribal governments began building their own health care clinics, daycare/schools, and support services like fire and security. The federal government and local state governments did little in these areas as evidenced by numerous government reports and census statistics in the 1960's- 1980's. Many Native American grassroots organizations emerged in the same time period. Certain tribal council/governments recognized one advantage to doing business or production on a Indian reservation is the fact that a reservation is within federal jurisdiction. This eventually led to gaming and the boom of Indian Casinos. At the same time more Native American lawyers were working diligently to protect cultural resources and desecration of graves, which led to Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990. The casino business allowed the tribes to provide what the federal government continues not to and is giving the means to also preserve and revitalize cultural resources including people. The gaming justified and legal but also has generated a fair amount of jealousy and greed from all corners. The positive and negative effects on Indian Gaming will become clearer in the 21st century. Native American communities have also opened up into global issues and have become active in world movements of indigenous people such as WIPCE. Issues of cultural resources and sovereignty are focused on.

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