Assimilation - A Raw Deal

When it comes to United States government policy and action regarding American Indians, the right hand never seems to know what the left hand does. While some members of congress and other officials appear to have good intentions, the policy on Native Americans is clearly one of pure cultural genocide. A good indian is no longer "a dead indian" but one who pays his or her taxes and votes in the presidential election.

American Indians were given allotments of land and their holdings privitized under the Dawes Act of 1887. In just 47 years that Act was reversed with the Indian Reorganization Act. Also known as The Indian New Deal, Indian Reorganization was designed to give specific rights to all Native people and return reservations to self-government which the Dawes Act had taken away. John Collier of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) created this bill to allow the tribal councils to take back control of their assets, allow them to employ legal council, require a majority vote before land transactions could take place, and allow the tribal council to negotiate with the Federal, State, and local government (like a sovereign nation). However, though Reorganization had many positive affects, it still seemed aimed at American Indian assimilation into white culture through censusing, censoring, and power struggles over assests.

Negatives within this bill become more apparent when looking at other stipulations of Indian Reorganization, like how each tribe only had a certain amount of time to register officially. They had to count their people and how much land they had and register it with the Federal government. If the tribe failed to register in time they were excluded from being recognized and, therefore, not eligiable for Federal aide.  Also, the tribal councils could only create constitutions that were approved by the US governement. A good question to ask at this point is how exactly is that sovereignty? Does the US require Norway to give drafts of their constitution before accepting them as a country?

There are now 564 officially recognized tribes but, yet again, the United States decided there may be a quicker and more perminent way to assimilate the American Indian into main stream culture, hence completing their termination. Fittingly and surprisingly blunt, this policy was named "Indian Termination". The logic behind this was that American Indians would be better off if assimilated and did not have any dependencey on government aide (aide only awarded after most other land and resources were stripped away and their culture all but banned, making self sustainability extremely difficult). Therefore, they would no longer be sovereign, they would no longer be anything. The idea was to completely erase Native tribes all together by making them US citizen with all rights and privledges that went along with it. It was "in their best interest".

Putting this policy into effect proved difficult and ultimately it was a failure. The Menominee of Wisconsin were one tribe the government pushed into termination in 1954. The Menominee were considered great candidates for termination because their lumber industry could support their people. But after several years of preparing for termination and $8.5 million in aide, the Menominee reservation (now Menominee County) still could not overcome the damage already done to its community. Menominee County was the poorest and least populated of any Wisconsin county and so it lacked the much needed tax base to provide even basic necessities. Several issues plagued the lumber mill there and ultimately the government knew it must put a halt to this process. Only one other tribe, the Klamath of Oregon, had attempted to be terminated before the government stopped all further terminations. The Menominee finally regained their status as a nation in 1973.

The effects of termination were painfully clear by the time the Menominee retained their tribal status. By 1972 they had a 75% high school drop out rate. This was caused by the closing of tribal schools which forced kids to attend public white schools where they were severely discriminated against, not to mention a curriculum that emphasized a modern, individualistic society: counter to the community and social structure the kids grew to understand. Health care was also an issue because the Menominee no longer qualified for Indian Health Services (which is similar to medicare) after their recognition as a tribe was taken away. Their local hospitals and clinics were closed and left them without means to secure privitized health care. So when tuberculosis struck the community 25% of the population was affected and were unable to receieve treatment.

Ultimately, the failure of the Indian Termination Policy was for the best. Many American Indians were against it in the first place because it meant the completetion of social genocide. No hearings were ever held to voice opinions and concerns on the matter and only a very small handfull of tribal leaders ever advocated for termination (and that was before the trial and error period proved the idea to be detrimental). The fact that no hearings were held for the communities that were to be affected is very telling. The US stance has always appeared to be one of arrogance. The idea that if  "they could just keep regular jobs and be given modern luxuries" will not solve the problem. White America cannot expect to force an entire group of people to understand and advocate a 9-5, tax paying culture when it is a great break from their own preferred manner of social structure. Let's remember, Native American children were forced away from their homes and placed in boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language (among other restrictions) all the way through the 1960's. The voice of an entire people has/is marginalized and silenced. It's also clear that the United States would rather hastily try to "deal" with the "Indian situation" rather than recognize the nations properly and as human beings that have a right to retain their culture.

For more information on Native American relationships with the US government, check out Vine Deloria Jr.'s book Custer Died For Your Sins.

"'Progress' [as the term is understood and taught within white culture] is the absolute destruction of the real world in favor of a technology that creates a comfortable way of life for a few fortunately situated people." -VDJ


Liberality said...

Excellent post jayna. Thank you for thinking about these issues and putting into words what the elite in this country want to do to the entire world. (Maybe I exaggerate there a bit but not much.)

Mindbender said...

I heard the other day that passports issued by a sovereign Indian tribal nation were not recognized by the United States because they are not up to par with the passport scanners in the airports and in turn if they leave the United States they would not be aloud back in.

This was from an interview of a Native America trying to go to the international lacrosse championships. The only way he could go is if he were to get a passport issued by the United States. Hows that for sovereignty.

What a sick, beautiful world we live in.

Great post!

okjimm said...

Kiddo... I was just up on the Rez last weekend. Things are getting better. The Native Americans have taken a lot of the casino money to buy up shit cottages, tear them down, and rejuvenate land. they have also instigated 'safe' lumbering procedures that have helped restore forest areas and bring in revenue. I talked with a guy up there, " We love the White Folks. Now they come, leave money, and spend most of their time here in a cement block building." They have rebuilt some schools, have started a small college and have made decent housing available. The cheap trailers I saw up there 25 years ago are going away.

okjimm said...

oh.... and what Mindbender said.... I read the same stuff in the NYTimes.

Jayna said...

Hey thanks to everyone for reading and commenting!

Jim - I am glad to hear that conditions are getting better and it's definitely no thanks to anything like "termination". Maybe the BIA is pulling its head outta its ass slowly but surely.

I'm not surprised to hear about the passports... people like to think it's all a choice, they can choose to be as free or dependent as they want... well obviously that is not the case!

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