Indian New Deal, Tribal Termination, and Urban Relocation 1934-1967


Findings from the 1928 Meriam Report usher in reforms during a period known as the Indian New Deal (1934-1949). In 1934, Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), a reform bill that recognizes the failure of allotment policy and promotes tribal self-sufficiency. The IRA creates opportunities to build tribal economies, create medical services, and construct roads, water systems, and schools. The IRA imposes the creation of tribal governments, but these are based on American ideas of democracy, eschewing traditional tribal governments. Powerful White ranchers and allied politicians in Washington, D.C., severely undercut the intended aims of the IRA to support tribal self-sufficiency. By 1945, John Collier, commissioner of Indian affairs and a staunch advocate for tribal self-sufficiency, is ousted and replaced with Dillon Meyer, the former director of the Japanese internment camps (Nies, 1996). The “Indian Problem” is reignited as coal and uranium are discovered on Indian lands, stimulating a renewed effort to dismantle reservations in order to gain federal control of mineral deposits. Congress launches “termination policy” in the 1950s to 1960s, stipulating that tribes would lose federal status, annuities, and treaty and trust obligations entitled to them by treaty and law. Coupled with the termination policy are the urban relocation programs. As Congress passes federal monies to states, federal funding for tribes does not trickle down from states to reservation communities, creating even more poverty and ill health, forcing reservation Indians to seek monies off reservation. With goals of further assimilation and de-tribalization, Congress creates the urban Indian relocation program, stimulating a mass exodus from tribal communities to cities with the allure (but not the reality) of housing and job training. Moreover, during this period, Native children are targeted by the Child Welfare League of America for transracial adoption into White homes to further stimulate assimilation and de-identification as a tribal people.