Indian New Deal

John Collier’s appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 marked a radical reversal-in intention if not always in effect-in U.S. government policies toward American Indians that dated back to the 1887 Dawes Act. An idealistic social worker, Collier first encountered Indian culture when he visited Taos, New Mexico in 1920, and found among the Pueblos there what he called a "Red Atlantis"-a model of living that integrated the needs of the individual with the group and that maintained traditional values. Although Collier could not win congressional backing for his most radical proposals, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 dramatically changed policy by allowing tribal self-government and consolidating individual land allotments back into tribal hands. Collier set out his vision for what became known as the "Indian New Deal" in this 1934 article from the Literary Digest. Although he was sympathetic to Indians, he depicted them in a stereotypical manner.
Collier, who has made the Indians’ cause his own, determined to change all that. He proposed a bill-the Wheeler-Howard bill drafted by the Office of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Solicitor of the Interior Department-which was designed to rehabilitate the Indians and give them land settlement. When Collier took office the records of the Indian Bureau showed that the Indian lands had shrunk from 113,000,000 acres in 1887, when the land-allotment law was passed, to 47,000,000 acres (Nichols 133).
Tribal funds had been reduced from $500,000,000 to $12,000,000, and 93 percent of tribal income was being used for bureau maintenance. Politicians were in complete control. graft was said to be wholesale. Federal money was being wasted on boarding-schools, which took children from their parents and tried to make white children of them, and a national scandal was exposed at the asylum for Indians at Canton, South Dakota. Tribal and social customs were being suppressed.
Collier put the boarding-schools out of business, obtained $3,600,000 of Public Works Adjustment money to finance Indian day schools, prohibited the sale of Indian lands, weeded out incompetent and crooked office-holders, organized emergency conservation work for Indians, and ordered reservation and agency superintendents to respect tribal customs.
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, was U.S. federal legislation which secured new rights for Native Americans, including Alaskan natives. This included a reversal of the Dawes Act’s privatization of common holdings of American Indians and a return to local self-government on a tribal basis. It also restored to Native Americans management of their assets, mostly land, and included provisions for building a sound economic foundation for Indian reservation inhabitants.
The act did not require tribes to select a constitution. However, if the tribe choose to, the constitution had to. (1) allow the tribal council to employ legal counsel, (2) prohibit the tribal council from engaging any land transitions without majority approval of the tribe, and, (3) authorize the tribal council to negotiate with the Federal, State, and local governments. Evidently some of these restrictions were eliminated by the Native American Technical Corrections Act of 2003. The act slowed a practice of assigning tribal lands to individual tribal members, and reduced the divestiture of native holdings that were being lost through a practice of checkerboard land sales to non-members within tribal areas.
From 1934 to 1953, the U.S. government invested in infrastructure, health care, and education. Because of the act and other actions of federal courts and the government, over two million acres (8,000 km) of land were returned to various tribes during first twenty years after passage of the act.
In 1954, the United States Department of Interior began implementing termination and relocation phases of the Act. Among other effects, the termination resulted in the legal dismantling of 61 tribal nations within the United States (Nichols 156).
Works Cited:
Nichols, Roger L. Indians in the United States &amp. Canada, A Comparative History. University of Nebraska Press, 1998.