This is part three of a paper I wrote in graduate school which summarizes Indian policy from Eisenhower’s administration to Johnson’s. Part 1 can be found here: https://historyscoop.com/2013/01/15/us-indian-policy-from-the-dawes-act-to-the-new-deal/ and part 2 can be found here: https://historyscoop.com/2013/02/19/us-indian-policy-during-the-new-deal .
Termination and Relocation
After the resignation of Commissioner Collier in January of 1945, federal Indian policy returned to its previous course of seeking to completely integrate American Indians into standard American society. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes ignored the requests of Indians to have a commissioner of Indian heritage, and appointed William Brophy to the post. Brophy had previously been an attorney for the Pueblo tribe. While Brophy shared a genuine interest in helping the Indians, he approached Indians affairs from a different perspective than Collier. He believed that Indian participation in the military during World War II indicated a readiness for assimilation for many Indians. Brophy was hampered by poor health during his tenure as commissioner; during 1946 and 1947 he requested leave at various times to recover from tuberculosis. During his lengthy leaves assistant commissioner William Zimmerman served as acting commissioner.
Congress had approved Brophy under the assurances that he would implement the will of Congress and not the ideas of John Collier. One of the first congressional actions that Brophy implemented was a reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that was signed into law by President Truman on August 8, 1946. The stated purpose of this act was to “simplify administration of Indian affairs.” Brophy was authorized to establish five district headquarters at Oklahoma City, Portland, Phoenix, Billings, and Minneapolis. Forty offices were eliminated. The area directors in charge of each district headquarters would then wield some of the powers previously reserved for the commissioner. This innovation was immediately criticized by Indian leaders as merely another stratum of bureaucracy to impede Indian affairs. Congressional attention to Indian affairs was lessened when the House and Senate committees on Indian affairs were merged with those on public lands in 1946.
More heartening for the Indians was the establishment of an Indian Claims Commission five days later on August 13, 1946. At last, the Indians were to be offered a chance to settle longstanding claims against the government. A three-judge panel was created through this legislation to resolve existing claims within five years. Within ten years, it was predicted that these pending claims would be adjudicated, and the Claims Commission would expire. This estimate would prove to be grossly inadequate; the lifespan of the Indian Claims Commission had to be extended by Congress several times to deal with the flood of cases which were placed before it. More than 800 cases were filed during the first five years of the Commission’s existence.
Many of the congressional supporters of the Indian Claims Commission did not have altruism in mind when they passed their bill. Indians had long requested a speedy means of settling grievances against the federal government. Those who acceded to the Indians’ request did so with an eye of reaching a final settlement with the Indians, of discharging federal responsibilities completely. Although the national debt was alarming, supporters believed that money would be saved in the long run by settling with the Indians now. Tribes whose claims were settled received money– often millions of dollars. These funds were then used to justify termination of these tribes. Claims awards would give Indians money of their own. From this money tribes were to begin to deal with their own needs without further government assistance. Claim amounts were awarded based on the value of the land at the time it was alienated from Indian control—not based on current value. Many tribes, especially because they were paid based on past value, demanded the land back rather than monetary compensation. This option was of course denied. Further, amounts spent by the government on other programs for the tribe were subtracted from any award amount. In the end, although more than $800 million was awarded, the money made little impact on tribal economies, since many elected to disburse the money in per capita payments rather than to use it to fund programs to benefit the entire tribe.
Another lasting impact that Brophy’s tenure had on Indian affairs derived from the testimony of Acting Commissioner Zimmerman before the Senate Committee on the Post Office and Civil Service in February 1947 during another of Brophy’s health leaves. The purpose of the testimony was to reduce the expenditures and personnel in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Zimmerman was required to produce a list of Indian tribes according to their readiness to be released from federal supervision, with a goal of cutting personnel costs. This list divided tribes into three groups: those who could be terminated immediately, those who would be ready in ten years, and those who would require assistance indefinitely. Although Zimmerman provided the list most reluctantly and with numerous caveats, it would soon be seized upon to justify the implementation of the termination policy.
During World War II thousands of Indians had left the reservations to serve in the armed forces or to work in war industries. Their success in living among white society provided the impetus to the movement to “emancipate” Indians from their status as wards of the federal government. However, the fact of the matter was that the “emancipation” of Indians really meant the emancipation of the government from responsibilities related to trust lands, treaty obligations, and social services.
The drive for termination was not driven solely by white policymakers. Some Indians requested their own “liberation.” They believed that federal wardship imposed undue interference in their lives. Indians under wardship had to get permission to sell or lease property. They were usually restricted to reservations and reservation schools and hospitals in order to attain services, for some states, regardless of the Johnson-O’Malley Act, refused to provide government services to Indians, citing their exemption from state laws and taxes. Reservations were often morasses of poverty, remote from employment opportunities. Until 1948, Arizona and New Mexico denied Indians the right to vote based on their exemption from taxation—although the failure to pay taxes was not used as a means to deny the franchise to any other group. Indians who were acculturated or who wished to live in urban areas often resented the restrictions that were analogous to tribal membership and reservation life.
The years after World War II were a time when reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy became a priority, largely as a response to the rapid growth of programs during the New Deal. Public Law 162 created the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government, also known as the Hoover Commission. Former President Herbert Hoover was the chair of this group. The goal was to downsize the federal executive. The Bureau of Indian Affairs received early scrutiny. Yet Indian needs still remained, and the government looked to the states to fill the void which would be left upon government withdrawal. Where previously the federal government had protected Indian tribes from state interference, those who advocated termination and emancipation fought the states to take responsibility for the needs of the Indians who lived within their borders.
Commissioner Brophy resigned in June 1948. John Nichols, who served for only 11 months, succeeded him. During that time he expended most of his time inspecting various reservations. Nichols was also involved in the Hoover Commission. Nichols declared that assimilation and Federal withdrawal from guardianship over Indians must be the goals of the Indian bureau, but that the true costs of assimilation must be addressed. Current federal appropriations of 6.5 million dollars averaged only twenty-five dollars per Indian. Nichols estimated that it would cost at least a million dollars just to provide enough classrooms for all Indian children. Nichols estimated the total cost at 150 million dollars for the United States to honorably discharge its debt to the Indians.
The last vestiges of the Indian New Deal came to a decisive end with the appointment of Dillon S. Myer as Indian commissioner in May 1950. Myer was best known as the administrator of the detention programs enforced upon Japanese-Americans during World War II. As Indian commissioner, he viewed the Indians as being the same as inmates in relocation camps, and sought to “liberate” Indians from their reservations. He did not consider the view that the reservations were the Indians’ homes, hard fought for and protected by treaty. As Philleo Nash stated, “So Myer approached Indian affairs as though relocation centers and reservations were the same. He viewed Indians on reservations as temporary detainees. He sought to end this detention as quickly as possible. His policy was a form of expulsion.” Myer sought to terminate federal wardship regardless of Indian consent or cooperation. His autocratic style provoked outrage from many Indians and reformers. Former Interior Secretary Harold Ickes judged Myer “a Hitler and a Mussolini rolled into one” in a 1951 article in the New Republic. John Collier sent an open letter to President-elect Truman urging Myer’s ouster, and Felix Cohen attacked Myer’s policy in the Yale Law Review.
Myer sought to place many of the responsibilities for law enforcement and human services with the states. Although many states initially welcomed the opportunity to have jurisdiction over Indian country, some cooled to this idea when they realized how expensive extending services would be. Since Indian land was immune to state taxation, and the federal government did not offer adequate funding to alleviate the increased fiscal burdens associated with this expansion, many states did not avail themselves of this opportunity. The Johnson-O’Malley Act which allowed for contracting between states and the federal government for services to Indians was primarily being used to finance the placement of Indian children in public schools. Contracts for this purpose had been signed with California in 1934, Washington in 1935, Minnesota in 1937, and Arizona in 1938.
Myer responded to Indian criticism of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by offering to terminate federal oversight of tribes. In his annual report for 1952, he outlined a three-part proposal for those tribes critical of Bureau policies. The first section is a direct challenge to the tribes:
1. If any Indian tribe is convinced that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a handicap to its advancement, I am willing to recommend to the Secretary of the Interior that we cooperate in securing legislative authority to terminate the Department’s trusteeship responsibility with respect to that tribe.
Another idea generated during Myer’s tenure that was designed to reduce the number of Indians for which the Bureau was responsible was relocation. Myer developed “Operation Relocation” in 1952 and claimed that through it the Bureau was providing a “basic program of training and placement assistance for those Indians who want to leave the reservation areas and establish new homes in ordinary American communities.” This program would be responsible for transplanting Indians from their reservations to selected urban areas where they were to blend into the urban environment. The goal was not to send Indians into urban areas to learn skills that could be brought back to the reservations. The goal was to depopulate reservations and thus make it possible to liquidate them.
The genesis of the relocation policy probably dates to two events: Indian success in working in war-related industries during World War II, and the crisis that resulted on the Navajo reservation after a severe blizzard during the winter of 1947-1948. The Navajo reservation carried a population far above what the land could support, and even after federal emergency aid was distributed, it was obvious that a one-time injection of federal assistance would not permanently resolve the crisis. Removing at least some of the Navajos could help the Navajo economy by reducing the strain, and by placing relocatees in areas where they could find employment, possibly sending some of their wages back to those who remained behind. Further, Indians off the reservation further reduced expenditures since they would not demand reservation-based social services. Some Indians had become interested in relocation after the experiences of World War II. The steady incomes the Indians earned as either soldiers or as industrial workers greatly raised expectations. Many of these Indians were obviously reluctant to go back to the reservations, with their lack of amenities and employment opportunities. A higher standard of living was waiting to be had in the cities. No one, not even Myer’s critics, could deny that employment opportunities were nonexistent on the reservations. There was no incentive for American business to reverse that trend, since the reservations were removed from population centers and transportation hubs, not to mention the low levels of education and occupational training of the general Indian population. As envisioned by Myer and many supporters of termination in Congress, relocation would lead to the destruction of Indian community—a complete disavowal of Collier’s ideas and the Indian New Deal.
The Indian Bureau was accused of providing no assistance to the relocatees once they arrived in the cities. Myer interpreted most Bureau responsibilities for Indians as stopping at the boundaries of the reservations, and he claimed that no Indians were forced to leave for the city. Relocation was a matter of choice, he emphasized. Bureau official simply tried to encourage that choice through the use of duplicitous advertising campaigns that depicted relocated families enjoying the benefits of good jobs, such as televisions, refrigerators, and nice clothing. The process of applying for relocation was also deceptively simple. Relocatees would choose a city from the list of those in the relocation program. Usually the Indians would travel by bus, and upon arrival would be met by a relocation worker. Money was given to the relocatee and he was accompanied by the federal worker to buy necessities. They were shown how and where to shop and where the church of their preference was. Housing was secured, and the government would pay the first month’s rent and other bills. After the first month, however, Indians were expected to take care of their own needs, although they were checked on periodically by the relocation worker. It was this “sink or swim” mentality that produced the most criticism, for Indians who wished to return to the reservation were not provided with the funds to do so. Those Indians who were not successful were thrown back into the same inexorable cycle of poverty they had sought to escape. However, now they were without the support of their extended family, their culture, or Bureau of Indian Affairs programs that they would have had if they had remained on the reservation.
As Indian populations continued to grow, the idea of relocation was expanded to include all Indian tribes. Beginning in 1951-1952, Indians were relocated to large urban areas such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago. Funding for the program in 1952 was $500,000. Expenditures were increased, and the applications for relocations surged as Indians were swayed by the pamphlets showered upon them by Bureau employees and as the situation on reservations worsened. This led Myer to request $8.5 million to fund the expansion of the program in the next year, including some vocational training. Congress did increase funding, although not to the extent that Myer envisioned.
The elections of 1952 led to conservative Republican control of both the federal executive and the legislative branches. Fiscally, austerity was the watchword, and the notion of limited federal government led logically to the support of termination of services to American Indians. America was on the precipice of McCarthyism, the Cold War, and nationalism, and tolerance for variant cultures or viewpoints was incompatible with nationalist sentiment. Further, powerful conservative westerners—Sen. Arthur Watkins of Utah and Rep. E. Y. Berry of South Dakota– controlled the committees which oversaw matters relating to the department of the interior and to Indian affairs. These representatives and senators were usually hostile to the ideas of tribal sovereignty.
Myer did not get the chance to take advantage of these developments. He had become too hated by the Indians, and during the presidential campaigns, Indians had bartered their support of Dwight Eisenhower in return for the removal of Myer. The 47,000 Navajos in New Mexico had recently gained the right to vote, and their tribal population was one of the largest in the United States. Eisen-hower requested Myer’s resignation in 1953. Myer’s successor was a white businessman from the center of the Navajo Reservation: Gallup, N.M., banker Glenn Emmons, who served from 1953 to 1961. Emmons continued and expanded the policy of termination. Emmons realized one essential fact that Myer had overlooked: it was vital to give the appearance of Indian cooperation if termination was to be fully implemented. Emmons tried to fully utilize public relations techniques and was a master of the selective interpretation of data.
In the summer of 1953, four days after Emmons assumed the office of commissioner, Wyoming Rep. William Henry Harrison sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 83-108, which listed certain tribes presumed to be ready for termination. The resolution stated, “It is the policy of Congress, as rapidly as possible, to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States.” It specified ending the federal trusteeship over Indians and dismantling the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The measure passed both houses with little interest or debate. The basic idea for termination as an official policy was specified and approved by Congress. Two weeks later Public Law 83-280 allowed states to unilaterally impose their jurisdiction over Indian reservations.
The anticipated results of termination were to completely break up reservations, to cease the recognition of tribal government, tribal membership, and treaty rights, and to ultimately shut down the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The prevailing mood in Congress and throughout the government was that the services and protections provided to the tribes was a form of welfare to which Indians were not entitled in perpetuity. Conservatives’ strong faith in economic Darwinism contradicted the idea that Indians had to be protected and that their land and resources should be withheld from exploitation in the free market. The beginning of the Eisenhower administration brought a renewed interest in sound business practices, and a recession necessitated severe budgetary constraints. Twelve million dollars was trimmed from the budget of the Bureau immediately after Interior Secretary Douglas McKay took office. These cuts were justified since services to the Indians would be ending soon anyway.
The first groups of Indians to be specifically targeted in Congress for termination were those in California, Texas, Florida and New York, as well as the Menominee, Klamath, Flathead, and Potawatomi tribes. The Bureau correspondingly drew up termination bills for several of these tribes, including the Menominees, Klamaths, Alabama-Coushattas, Utes, Ottawas, Wyandottes, Ottawas, and Paiutes. These bills required the compilation of a final tribal roll, removing trust restrictions from individual tribal members, and requiring tribes to manage tribal property themselves or to hire a trustee to administer such property. Within two to four years after Congress approved termination legislation, the process was to be complete. During the first half of 1954, hearings were held on the termination of several tribes.
The next area to feel the pinch was in programs that offered economic help to Indians, especially the Revolving Loan Fund. Interest rates were raised from the current 2 percent to 4-5 percent in an effort to recover operating costs. Fewer loans were made as credit was tightened in response to delinquency rates that government officials deemed high. Since most Indians had few tangible assets not held in trust by the government, there was little hope of foreclosure to satisfy outstanding debts if an Indian defaulted. Eligibility was therefore constricted, and loans dropped 60 percent in 1953 alone. Although Emmons and other Bureau officials encouraged banks in the private sector to step into the void, the lack of collateral described above made obtaining credit in the free market impossible —which was why the Revolving Fund had been initiated during the New Deal in the first place.
In late 1953, the Interior Department began preparing for the demise of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by commissioning a study to suggest ways to implement termination plans and to cut the Bureau’s budget immediately. The committee that drew up the resulting analysis, known as the Bimson report, was made up of businessmen and officials from the Bureau. Suggestions included transferring the responsibility for services to other federal agencies, states, or tribes, expanding the relocation program as a cost-cutting measure, delaying the construction of boarding schools, and reducing the number of district offices and personnel. Realizing that such actions would be criticized, the Bimson report also recommended a propaganda campaign to smooth the way for these cutbacks.
A simple means of reducing Bureau expenditures was to divest it of responsibilities, turning over programs to other departments. Two areas which were transferred early in the Eisenhower administration were education and health. The troubled Indian Health Service was transferred to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and made part of the Public Health Service in August of 1954. While boarding schools had fallen out of favor during the New Deal, they were given new life under termination. One reason was responsible for both decisions: boarding schools stripped youngsters from their communities and promoted assimilation. During termination, then, boarding schools received the emphasis for full-blood Indians. However, by 1956, nearly 59 percent of Indians were enrolled in public schools operated by the states and local communities. Indians of mixed heritage did the best there, as they were usually more familiar with white ways.
The first group to come under termination legislation was the Menominee of Wisconsin. Their high rate of literacy in English and timber operations made them ideal test subjects for termination, and doubtless backers of termination presumed that they would have enough assets and cultural literacy to make the transition with a minimum of difficulty. Their termination legislation was passed in June 1954, with a termination date of December 31, 1958. Wisconsin state officials even provided the Menominee with a committee to assist in preparing their termination plans to the secretary of the interior. However, the tribe was unable to meet their deadlines, and did not even submit their plan until October 31, 1959. They set up a corporation, Menominee Enterprises, Inc., to administer the tribal property, such as the sawmill and logging lands. Their reservation lands were established as a separate county, which immediately garnered the distinction of being the poorest and least populated county in the state, with only 3,270 inhabitants.
Finally, on April 30, 1961, the Menominees were officially terminated. The Menominees became subject to all state laws, including taxation. Immediately it became obvious that termination for this group was a dismal failure. The federal government had buttressed the Menominee economy in unseen ways and the economy began to collapse under the weight of taxation. Further, although the Menominees dressed and spoke as their white neighbors, they were still culturally distinct. Many Menominee began immediately agitating for a return to recognized tribal status. The Klamath of Oregon, also rich in timberlands, disintegrated under termination when a majority elected to divide the tribal property and take per capita payments. The tribe was destroyed, and the land was over-harvested or used by the federal government for national forest and a wildlife refuge. These well-publicized failures started a groundswell of Indian protests and public opposition to termination. Although termination was to remain on the books as official Indian policy for many more years, active enforcement of the policy went on hiatus.
In addition to terminating tribes, individual Indians were terminated from receiving government services. This was accomplished through the relocation program, which had gained momentum since Myer’s tenure. By 1954, over 2,600 had been relocated and employed, although the quality of the jobs (and their paychecks) was often poor. The Bureau’s report for 1954 shows that Indians had been placed in urban areas in twenty states, and relocation offices had been opened in Oakland, San Francisco, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Dallas, to name a few locations.
By this time the Bureau had begun systematically providing vocational training to increase relocatees’ success in finding permanent employment. Application rates mushroomed, and congressional financial support increased accordingly. Over $1 million was allocated in 1955, and this amount ballooned to nearly $3.5 million the following year. In August 1956 Public Law 959 authorized a system of adult vocational education to both augment the relocation efforts and to increase opportunities near the reservations. Although the first two sections of the law were aimed at preparing Indians for urban opportunities, the third section encouraged businesses to locate near reservations. This allowed Indians to increase their standard of living without leaving a familiar environment, and did not result in as much culture shock as those Indians who relocated faced. Further, the incentives provided by the government to encourage industry location near reservations led to only short term development. The factories were usually developed with tribal funds, provided on average only a few hundred jobs, and remained only a few years, especially in the face of a recession that developed during 1957 and 1958. However, the primary goal of this program was to help Indians gain experience that they could use to transition to a better lifestyle off the reservation.
Until 1957, the main focus continued to be relocation. Due to the increased demand by Indians for acceptance into the program, funding was stretched thin, even with the increases approved by Congress. This resulted in a lower level of support for Indians in the program. For instance, housing was usually located in low-income areas; ironically, even this low-income housing in slums was rationalized as being not noticeably inferior to that which the Indians were accustomed to on the reservations. As noted previously, Indians were not provided with funds to return to reservations if they found urban life too harsh or lost employment. Some Indians made it home anyway, but most could not afford the trip home, or were too proud to admit failure. This also reduced the chance that those still on the reservations would discover the truth about the obstacles faced by relocatees.
Much of traditional Indian life was based on community: the support of family, clan, band, or tribe. Urban Indians for the first time experienced true loneliness and isolation. Discrimination was a fact of life. Many relocated Indians were unfamiliar with conveniences such as telephones, bank accounts, or elevators. They were unused to following schedules. Their eligibility for government services had ended soon after they left the reservations. They were thrown together with other impoverished minorities who nonetheless knew more about navigating the urban environment. Too often they descended into despair, alcoholism, and drug abuse. These problems did not go unnoticed, and relocation programs received much criticism. By 1957, the very word “relocation” had earned a negative connotation which could not be dismissed. Since PL 959 emphasized education as a way of achieving the goals of relocation, Bureau officials soon dropped the name “relocation” in favor of the more benign “employment assistance.”
The election of John F. Kennedy brought about the opportunity for a reassessment of current federal Indian policy. The policies advocated under Commissioners Myer and Emmons had led to a complete distrust of the federal government by Indians. A sense of hopelessness competed with a dawning awareness of the power of activism. During the election of 1960 Kennedy was questioned about his stance on Indian policy– specifically, termination—by the Association of American Indian Affairs. Kennedy’s Republican opponent, Richard M. Nixon, was asked the same questions. Kennedy naturally used the opportunity to criticize the previous administration’s policy, specifically termination. Nixon, as vice president, instead tried to defend termination as a positive program. “Since 1953 we have had more progress toward a better way of life for the American Indian than in any comparable period in our national history.” He hinted that more progress would have been made had Democrats in Congress not hindered the intentions of the Eisenhower administration.
Kennedy’s interior secretary was Stewart Udall, former Arizona congressman. Udall had actually served on the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, and so had taken some interest in policy. Although Udall attempted to place an Indian in the commissioner’s office, this proved impossible. During the search, Udall created a Task Force on Indian Affairs to review critique current policy. The Task Force made a noticeable effort to consult with Indian leaders, traveling to many reservations to gather data and suggestions. The report delivered to Udall in July 1961 recommended “workability” and more Indian input but did not recommend any radical policy shifts or restructuring of bureaucracy. Instead, it recommended “maximum development” of resources on the reservations. It emphasized the further development of services and the protection of Indians’ rights even if they lived off reservations. It did not specifically renounce termination, but instead criticized the emphasis on the word, which by this time caused immediate hostility on the part of many Indians. Better to assist the Indians in social, political, and economic assimilation, then to gradually terminate.
Finally, after some delay, Philleo Nash, an anthropologist by training, was chosen as commissioner. Nash had served on the Task Force. He opposed termination, and when it became clear that he could not do away with the policy due to congressional pressure, he initiated a slowdown of its implementation. Regardless of his personal stance, termination did continue during the Kennedy administration, with the Menominee and Klamath terminations finalized in 1961 and the Catawba termination finalized in 1962. Both Udall and Nash avoided the use of the word “termination” in his many consultations with Indian leaders, preferring instead the term “development.” Nonetheless, Nash was stymied throughout his term of office by congressional adherence to termination, and Kennedy’s indifference to Indian matters left Nash with no leverage. The most Nash and Udall could do was ensure that Indians were included in Kennedy’s rudimentary programs on poverty, which did not have much time to develop before Kennedy’s assassination. 
However, Indians themselves were beginning to grow tired of being involved in policies affecting them only at the invitation of bureaucrats. Two significant events occurred during Kennedy’s admin-istration which indicated that many Indians were ready to take responsibility for self-determination. One was the Declaration of Indian Purpose that was issued after a pan-Indian congress held at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1961. This convocation of nearly 500 Indians from dozens of Native American tribes as well as native observers from throughout North America represented a breakthrough in cooperation among tribes. Many of the young people who were involved in attending the Chicago conference went on to found the National Indian Youth Council. This group’s members became activists in presenting Indian problems as civil rights problems, and many of its young leaders adopted the forceful attitudes of other minority groups in the civil rights movement, using the phrase “Red Power” to describe their dedication to political activism. Many of the leaders of the NIYC would go on to participate in the more militant American Indian Movement, known as AIM, which would gain so much attention during the later 1960s and early 1970s.