American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Termination and Indian Sovereignty (1945 to 2000)

Changes in U.S. policy have occurred throughout Indian history, and Indian leaders and communities have struggled to preserve self-government in the context of each with varying degrees of success. Since 1950, American Indian nations have continued to preserve land, political autonomy, community, and cultures. U.S. government policies for American Indians during the 1950–2006 period waver and change: The termination policy of the 1950s was followed by the self-determination policies in the late 1960s and 1970s, with a trend toward less favorable legal and political environments and policies since the 1980s and with an increasingly conservative U.S. political, legal, and cultural environment during the early 2000s.

Through all these changes, American Indians have steadily sought new ways to accommodate U.S. policy and institutions, and they have increasingly formed national organizations; strengthened tribal governments; and sought to recover cultures, languages, community, and land, and to regain control over everyday life on Indian reservations. Many Indians have migrated to urban areas, sought work, and, in recent years, increased their ownership of private businesses.

The present period is marked by U.S. policies that foster American Indian assimilation and integration into the mainstream. In many ways, the American public and policy makers see American Indians as an historical ethnic group, not unlike many ethnic groups and identities in American history and culture. Yet ethnic groups have homelands on other continents and often come to the United States seeking economic livelihood or religious or political freedom. Most immigrant ethnic groups seek to assimilate, become U.S. citizens, and adopt much of the U.S. culture. Not broadly understood or recognized by U.S. policy makers and the general public, however, is the viewpoint of indigenous U.S. Indians who have lived on the land and practiced self-government from time immemorial. Indian nations derive their claims to self-government and land from their creation teachings and from their long-time political, national, and cultural presence that preceded the formation of the U.S. Constitution and nation. Indigenous peoples seek to preserve their land, their government, and their culture, and they have not actively sought integration or total assimilation into American life and culture. American Indian communities resist the general patterns of assimilation and integration into American culture and society. Consequently, American Indians are not well understood, and often U.S. government policies reflect strong trends toward the assimilation and integration of American Indians into U.S. society, which Indian communities and organizations often actively oppose.

Since the 1960s, legal and policy changes have allowed American Indian communities to seek self-government, economic development, and cultural maintenance or reclamation in ways more open than at any time since before 1871, when the U.S. ended treaty making with Indian nations. Between 1871 and the middle 1960s, the U.S. government extended direct administrative control over many Indian communities, governments, and cultures. Even the Indian New Deal of the 1930s did little to empower tribal communities. In a significant way, contemporary policy unravels some, although not all, legal and political constraints that were imposed on Indian nations and governments during the period of nearly total control established after 1871. Through internal dynamics and change in American society, U.S. government policy changed after the termination policy of the 1950s and sought ways to economically include Indian communities in American society. The changes in policy resulted in the strengthening of tribal governments, and the tribal government organizations we know today are to a large extent a result of government policies implemented between 1965 and 1980. Although the legal and legislative opportunities created during the 1965–1980 period are formative for the current period, they were short-lived, as the bureaucratic, juridical, and legislative practices and policies of the U.S. government have became increasingly less favorable toward tribal governments and communities after 1980.

While government policies from the 1960s to about 1980 created new government capabilities and legal opportunities, a second trend better characterizes present-day Indian policy. While Indian communities have often fought vigorously to maintain their rights to land, and self-government in the post-1871 period, these days Indian communities and organizations have become more self-aware about indigenous rights, tribal self-government, and preserving community and culture. American Indian political and cultural consciousness has become national, pan-Indian, and international. Before 1871, most tribal communities were still well taught within their own traditions and cultures and sought to assert their governments and cultures from within their traditions. After a century of U.S. administrative control over tribal institutions and government policies of assimilation and integration, many Indian communities were deprived of significant aspects of their languages, their religions, their community organizations, and their control over justice, land, and self-government.

At the same time, most Indian people speak English, many have high school or college educations, and have learned to work within the U.S. market and political systems. Given the legal and bureaucratic opportunities of the 1960s and 1970s, Indian communities, students, and leaders—becoming increasingly aware of their history—sought to restore their values, cultures, and political and legal rights. A general understanding of Indian legal and political history became more common among leaders and students, as well as among community members, as tribal communities actively sought to reclaim land, self-government, culture, and language, at the same time starting to engage and participate in markets and U.S. political institutions on their own cultural terms.

The broad national consensus about tribal political identity and tribal relations with the U.S. government and nation has characterized the most recent U.S.–Indian policy period, even after the post-1980 emergence of relatively less favorable federal legal, legislative, and bureaucratic support. American Indian tribal communities are mobilized to pursue many of their political and cultural goals and values in new ways and in the new contemporary circumstances of U.S. policy, amid the increasing globalization of markets, information, technology, and culture. The story of recent Indian–U.S. relations is one of tribal cultural mobilization and opportunity, although within the constraints of U.S. political, legal, and cultural institutions. An overview of contemporary U.S. government policy and the rise of American Indian cultural and political mobilization follows.

Termination Policy

The termination policy sought to dismantle Indian reservations, divide or sell the land, distribute the proceeds to tribal members, and incorporate Indians as full citizens of the United States. Congress passed acts to introduce the termination policy in the early 1950s and instructed the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to make lists of the tribal communities most ready to enter permanently into U.S. society. The termination policy emphasized the assimilation and integration of Indians into U.S. life. On its face, the termination policy appears to break Indian treaties— agreements between Indian tribes and the United States that often guarantee ownership of Indian lands (the reservation) in exchange for compensation or other diplomatic considerations. The courts, however, as in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903), deem treaties with Indians breakable if such action is in the collective interests of the United States and the Indian tribes. Congress, by the early 1900s, assumed primary policy-making authority in Indian affairs, because the U.S. Constitution says in the commerce clause that Congress will manage trade and relations with Indian tribes.

With the application of the Indian New Deal policy under Franklin Roosevelt starting in the middle 1930s, Indian policy was generated from the U.S. Congress, which began to pass legislation aimed at the assimilation of Indian communities. World War II intervened, but, after the end of the war, Congress revisited older efforts to pass resolutions and legislation opening the way to dismantle Indian reservations economically and politically and to move Indian people into full participation in U.S. society. Congressional supporters of termination believed that Indian people should be released from tribal governments and reservations so that they could enjoy full rights and participation in the United States.

Indian people were relocated from Indian reservations to urban areas, where they were assisted in seeking employment. Because the economies of most Indian reservations could not support Indian populations, many tribal members had migrated during the 1920s and World War II to urban areas in search of employment. The BIA's relocation program, however, was designed to move whole Indian families and people off the reservation and into the cities. In the early 1950s, Congress enacted PL83-280, usually known as Public Law 280, or PL280, the 280th law passed by the 83rd Congress. PL280 transferred the administration of criminal justice from federal administration to some state governments. With passage of the act, Indian reservations in six states saw their jurisdiction transferred and several other states followed, requiring the use of state courts for criminal offenses. Tribal members in PL280 states were served by state and county police, especially if there were no tribal police or courts. BIA funded and generally managed the courts, and police served nonPL280 communities during the 1950s. The initial intent of PL280 was to assist termination procedures by delegating police and court authorities to states and counties withdrawing services that had been generally provided by the federal government to non-PL280 reservation communities. However, Congress did not provide additional funding to states and counties, which caused some financial and service difficulties.

Between the early 1950s and the early 1970s, one hundred and ten Indian reservations were terminated. A few reservations targeted for termination, such as the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, mobilized political support from their congressional delegations and avoided termination. Several reservations, including the Turtle Mountain Reservation, Klamath Reservation in Oregon, and Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, were targeted early in the termination process because they were deemed more economically capable and therefore ready for termination. More than forty tribal reservations in California were terminated, mostly small rancherias. Many communities in California were willing to adopt termination because they were greatly underserved by the BIA and saw few prospects for their communities under continued BIA administration. Some tribal communities, including the Lakota and Dakota reservations in South Dakota and the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, mobilized state political initiatives or their congressional delegations and lobbied successfully to avoid PL280 implementation on their reservations. Other tribes in Nevada were allowed to adopt PL280 in the early 1960s, but the Nevada tribes opted to withdraw or "retrocede" from PL280 and return to BIA-funded police and courts in the 1970s. States like California, Oregon, Nebraska, and Minnesota had most of their tribal communities assigned to PL280 law and police services.

The results of termination soon became apparent, and the outcomes for many communities, including the large Klamath and Menominee Reservations, were bleak. The tribal communities lost significant tribal assets and were subject to new taxes and market competition. Poverty increased, many businesses failed, additional lands were lost, and communities were broken up.

Other tribal communities observed the events among the terminated tribes and started to organize state, congressional, and national tribal organizations to prevent additional terminations of reservation communities. Congressional and state support was often forthcoming because states saw the termination policy as an unfunded mandate. (As reservation communities were dismantled, any new costs were borne by local county and state institutions.) Tribal communities rallied around the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a national organization created by BIA employees in 1944, although there were similar earlier lobbying organizations proposed and developed during the 1930s. The NCAI developed into a national lobbying organization, and many tribal communities joined. Each tribe, a sovereign nation, has one vote in NCAI decision making. Each tribal community is respected as a member of the NCAI. The threat of more terminations across Indian country mobilized considerable resistance to the policy. By the end of the 1950s, NCAI and Indian leaders, with the help of Congress members and state and local support, were able to prevent new terminations. By 1960, the termination policy was defeated, although some terminations that were initiated before 1960 continued sporadically into the 1970s. The defeat of the termination policy was an early victory for NCAI and a national coalition of Indian leaders. NCAI became a national lobbying organization for tribal legislative issues and interests in Congress. Indian tribes had stopped termination, and many Indian groups were interested in influencing the government to develop policies that included Indian interests and values.

In the early 1960s, tribal leaders, students, community leaders, and scholars met in Chicago and other places to discuss the future of Indian policy. Tribal leaders and advocates looked to develop new policies that supported tribal governments; increased self-determination; secured Indian lands; encouraged Indian language, culture, and religion; and addressed issues of poverty and health. Indian people wanted a voice in their affairs, and they wanted the government to introduce policies that supported tribal community and economic development and that honored and upheld treaties. Government policy did not have a clear direction in the early 1960s, although some efforts at supporting economic development had minor impact. Nevertheless, direct response by the U.S. government to the increasingly mobilized Indian leadership was minimal and, while perhaps sympathetic, was without direct motivation or capability to respond to the demands in some segments of the Indian community for major reform in Indian policy. Most tribal governments, however, remained within the administrative and financial influence of the BIA, where policies were not yet significantly affected by the new proposals for reform. Those governments and reservation leaders depended on BIA administration and funding, and most reservation tribal leaders were not in strong positions to challenge longstanding BIA control over reservation institutions. Tribal communities and leaders were constrained by BIA-imposed and -controlled tribal government forms, such as IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) constitutional governments or business councils, which did not encourage tribal government autonomy, functionality, or self-sufficiency.

The Rise of Self-Determination Policy (1965–1980)

Self-determination policies eventually emerged from the efforts of a wide variety of Native American communities, activists, tribal leaders, Indian national organizations, and U.S. government policy makers during the 1960s. Inasmuch as U.S. government policy in Indian Country is often greatly influenced by changing cultures and political philosophies in mainstream U.S. politics, the 1960s were greatly influenced by the civil-rights movement, poor peoples' movements, and the changing cultural and political orientations surrounding debates and activism growing out of the Vietnam War. Minority groups and poor peoples began to seek recognition, aid, and redress from the federal government. The political campaigns of John F. Kennedy and his vice presidential partner, Lyndon B. Johnson, formed a democratic coalition of minority groups, bringing poor peoples together regarding civil rights issues. With this winning political coalition in 1960 and in 1964, Lyndon Johnson carried the Democratic party coalition with an overwhelming majority. Federal policies turned toward redistributing federal taxes and wealth, with policies encouraging civil rights, greater opportunity, education programs, environmental concerns, and new programs to alleviate poverty. President Johnson's administration formulated the Great Society programs, designed to assist poor people, minority groups, and others to gain better access and opportunity in American society. Congress passed many of the administration's legislative proposals in the early and middle 1960s, and soon substantial numbers of programs and significant funds flowed to many formerly disenfranchised groups and communities.

While engaged in national politics and in developing Indian policy and issues, tribal leaders generally were not active in the democratic movement or the policy development of the Great Society programs. During the early 1960s, federal administration in Indian Country was managed by the BIA. In the middle 1960s, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) started to allocate community action program (CAP) grants directly to local communities. This plan was based on requests from many programs, especially urban poor peoples' movements that wanted to avoid top-down federal bureaucratic administration and actively participate in the decision making and administration of projects designed to assist local communities. Bypassing federal bureaucracies, federal funds were allocated directly to the community action boards, which received, administered, and distributed the allocations for local projects.

A question arose among federal officials and policy makers about whether Indian communities and tribal governments were eligible for CAP funds. The BIA wanted to administer all federal funds to Indians, but the OEO was suspicious of the track record and control that BIA administration maintained over tribal communities. OEO decided to send CAP grants directly to tribal governments. This was a major change in policy. Under the BIA few federal program funds went directly to tribal government administrations; instead, they generally were allocated to the BIA, which administered many programs and initiatives on behalf of the tribal governments. The OEO CAP grants were allocated directly to tribal governments, who were in a position to form community action boards and to administer and allocate funds according to local needs. The CAP grants bypassed the BIA administration, and many tribal governments for the first time gained access to and control over substantial grant funds. Following the OEO example, other federal agencies began to establish direct relations with tribal governments and determined tribal eligibility for grant programs. By the late 1960s and 1970s, tribal governments received funds from a variety of federal agencies for housing, education, drug control, police, tribal court administration, antipoverty programs and other purposes. The BIA, while still a central administrative feature of reservation administration, began to reform its programs to assist the delivery of social and administrative services to tribal governments and Indian reservation communities.

The new attention from federal agencies in the middle and late 1960s revitalized tribal government organizations and administrations. Many tribal governments gained access to federal funds, along with control over the administration and distribution of significant funding. Previously, most tribal governments had few staff, little political power, and very little discretionary financing, and they were often subject to strict control by BIA administration. The new influx of grants and relations with many federal agencies enabled tribal governments to obtain more resources and to work with a variety of funding sources. Tribal governments, often still based on relatively weak government constitutions, bylaws, or business councils, soon became more capable organizations that began to interact and gain influence with federal agencies, like other local and state governments. Many tribal governments gathered considerable numbers of federal grants, increased administrative staffs, and established greater control over the distribution of program resources in local communities. Political leadership became more competitive as the stakes for tribal government leadership became more serious.

The tribal governments we know today were largely forged during the 1965–1980 period. During this time, many federal agencies allocated significant funds to the administration of tribal governments, which became recognized governmental entities in the federal-state-local system. The official self-determination policy was kicked off by President Richard Nixon in the late 1960s. The president took the new policy orientation from the then current trends in Indian Country, as tribal governments sought more direct federal funding and worked to strengthen tribal government resources, employees, and program capabilities.

During the 1960s, the Zuni Pueblos sought to decrease federal and BIA control over their communities by contracting all federal programs through the Zuni tribal government. Using a little known and until then rarely used law, the Zuni strengthened control over their own institutions and government by contracting all federal services whenever possible, thereby gaining considerable administrative control of federal programs on their reservation. The Zuni model was mentioned by President Nixon as a new template for Indian self-determination. The new plan for the local administration of federal programs by the tribal government was eventually passed by Congress as the Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975 (Public Law 93-638). The Self-Determination Act created mechanisms for tribal governments and Indian-owned organizations to contract for the delivery of federal service to reservation communities. Tribal governments could now contract for BIA services on reservations, and many slowly began to work toward that end. Tribal communities in the 1970s began to contract for education programs, gaining greater participation and administration of education in reservation communities. More complicated programs, such as health clinics, tended to be avoided by many tribal governments, which generally pursued contracting according to their administrative and management capabilities. The Navajo tribal government became a major contractor of BIA and federal programs, but the contracting of federal services was varied across Indian Country. The contracts became known generally and informally as "638" contracts, named after the Congressional Public Law 93-638 (PL93-638, the 638th public law passed by the 93rd Congress).

The Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975 created a contracting mechanism for tribal governments to administer locally programs intended for tribal communities. The effect of the Act was to increase tribal government administration of federal programs, and it helped to extend and strengthen the powers of tribal governments, as well as taking away additional program autonomy from BIA administration. However, while contemporary tribal governments use 638 contracting extensively they do not possess the infrastructure to contract all BIA programs. The Self-Determination Act strengthened tribal organizations and increased local delivery and management of programs for reservation members. Nevertheless, the contracts were governed by BIA or federal rules and regulations, and funding came from Congress and was funneled through federal or BIA agencies that monitored the contracting processes. Tribal governments gained standing for funding and administrative purposes similar to local and state governments, but most tribal governments lack independent sources of income and had few discretionary resources to implement plans, programs, and economic development that represented tribal values, interests, and goals. Most tribal governments have acquired greater bureaucratic and program capacities since the 1960s, but most remain dependent on federal funding and administrative rules for most of its pro-grammatic operational activities.

As time passed, many tribal governments provided program assistance and jobs to tribal communities, but the new arrangements maintained considerable dependency on federal funding, and federal rules and regulations dominated most program implementation. Most tribal governments did not have significant alternative sources of income. Although tribal governments have the right to tax, such measures generally are contrary to Indian cultures, and taxes do not meet with acceptance in most tribal communities. Consequently, tribal government leaders began to look toward reservation economic development for discretionary funds. Some leaders began to say that tribal governments needed to move away from federal dependency and engage market economies to help relieve tribal communities from poverty and dependence. Some federal programs offered business loans to aid investment in tourism and hotels in Indian Country. From the 1960s to the 1990s, however, there were few economic successes in Indian Country that did not depend on the sale of raw materials or gambling enterprises. The Mississippi Choctaws developed some manufacturing industries and provided work for community members and local non-Indians, but in general most reservation economies were far from providing their communities with American levels of economic well-being.

Tribal communities and governments increasingly are looking to establish more productive reservation economies as a means of generating autonomous revenues that they can use to pursue the goals of restoring tribal cultures and communities, as well as reclaiming land and strengthening tribal government capabilities and self-government. Toward these ends, some communities have sought to discuss reorganizing tribal governments to make them more effective and more responsible to tribal cultures and communities. Many tribal governments have looked to markets and businesses to create jobs, income, and tribal government revenues. The trend in Indian Country, however, has not been toward fostering individual entrepreneurship, as in American society, but rather most tribal communities, at least in their early steps, have favored a form of tribal capitalism, where tribal governments manage and own tribal assets and produce income for the tribal government that is available to support collective tribal programs and needs. The organization of the successful Mississippi Choctaw businesses are a main case in point. As time has passed, however, many tribal governments have sought creative legal and market mechanisms to preserve tribal communities, norms, and values, at the same time creating tribal corporations or enterprises that are profitable in market competition.

Multiple Pathways to Self-Determination

The development of the U.S. government self-determination policy is only one movement that characterizes the present period of government policy, tribal government, and American Indian community relations. Also helping to characterize the revival and development of contemporary Indian identity, communities, and tribal governments are Red Power activism; the tribal community college movement; cultural, religious, and language reclamation; federal and tribal legal developments; the international indigenous rights movement; and Indian market capitalism. The multidimensional roots along with the broad international recognition of Indian rights, cultural aspirations, and search for greater cultural and political autonomy, are part of the indigenous movement and the self-determination movement among American Indian communities.

Indian communities have been active throughout history in defense of their lands, territories, cultures, and governments. Historically, tribal leaders and communities mostly were raised within their cultures and traditions and, while having some contact with the United States, generally were well socialized within their own cultures and values. After 1871, active assimilation and Christianization programs began to change and introduce alternative forms of knowledge, worldviews, education, science, and ways of life. Tribal communities became multicultural, and tribal members held varying degrees of traditional knowledge as well as American or modern knowledge and understandings. Furthermore, their world has changed considerably over time. Most contemporary tribal leaders do not think that it is possible to return to the traditional societies and cultures of several hundred years ago. The emphasis is on upholding traditions and norms when they maintain identity and community, but tribal communities and leaders also are looking for pathways to the future. They want to uphold community and culture, at the same time engaging the globalized political, economic, informational, and cultural challenges of the twenty-first century. Tribal cultures and values will be preserved and used as tools to help formulate ways by which Indian people and future generations will live in the contemporary and future world. Indian people, like all human groups, confront change, but they want to do so from the point of view of their communities, values, and ways of living.

Between 1871 and 1965, many Indian people and communities were discouraged from speaking their languages, practicing Indian ceremonies and religions, or otherwise living in ways informed by tribal values. Indian students were taught in government and state schools how to live in U.S. society, and they were encouraged to abandon Indian identities, cultures, and tribal membership and to join U.S. society as economically independent citizens. The U.S. government assimilation and Christianization programs had varying success. During the 1920s and after the 1950s, many Indian reservation people migrated to urban areas in search of education and employment. Many individuals and whole tribes by the 1960s had lost many aspects of their communities, identities, cultures, and values. In the contemporary period, many Indian people retain social and political identities as American Indian, but often many do not have strong or nurturing relations with their communities and cultures. Several generations of Indian people have been living in urban areas, and most have had only occasional contact with their tribal communities. There are over 4 million people on the 2000 U.S. Census who say they are at least part Indian, while only about 600,000 Indians live on reservations. About two-thirds of self-identified Indians live in urban areas. The urbanization and government assimilation programs have greatly changed and diversified the cultural makeup of Indian people. Many Indian communities and individuals have been separated from their communities, cultures, land, or tribal governments. Tribal communities are not composed of Indian people steeped in their tribal cultures and traditions, and many tribal members have had little shared contact with their cultures. The contemporary movement toward recovering tribal community and values involves recovering and reclaiming tribal culture, values, and identity.

The Red Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s had many characteristics of a cultural reclamation movement. The heyday of the Red Power Movement took place between the takeover of Alcatraz Island in late 1969 and the Longest Walk of 1977. During this period, Indian activists took over at least seventy-five locations, which were used as platforms to articulate Indian issues and rights and often to express land claims. Many of the members of the Alcatraz takeover in 1969–1971 were urban Indians or students, many of whom did not have strong cultural ties to their communities. Many visitors to Alcatraz Island during the takeover period learned from discussions about tribal history, policy, and issues and conditions on Indian reservations. Many were then motivated to carry on activism to support Indian rights and issues and to pass information on to others. Soon there followed other takeovers, of which the most well-known was the BIA headquarters in Washington, DC (in 1972) and the Wounded Knee standoff on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota the next year. The takeovers attracted international attention and highlighted Indian history, grievances, and rights in the mass media. Many Indians who were living American urban lives became inspired to recover their identities, to reclaim tribal histories and cultures, and to support strengthened tribal governments and communities. One reason that American Indian Movement (AIM) members returned to Pine Ridge in the early 1970s was that they believed they did not have sufficient grounding in traditional knowledge and wanted to learn from elders and spiritual leaders who retained an understanding of Lakota religion and ceremonies. Lakota elders at the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations were surprised at how boldly the activists came to seek traditional understanding and knowledge. The elders were emboldened by the activists, and many more openly started to perform ceremonies, such as the Ghost Dances and Sun Dances, that had long been practiced away from the eyes of government agents. Many activists and spiritual elders began to practice traditional religions and ceremonies more openly and more often, and many younger members apprenticed themselves to learn more about traditional religion, ceremonies, and languages. Many communities are now seeking ways to recover, reclaim, and use traditional knowledge and language in their communities.

Many elders soon started teaching language and culture in newly formed tribally controlled community colleges on Indian reservations. The founders of the colleges were primarily local tribal people dedicated to improving educational opportunities in their communities. In the late 1960s, the Navajo Community College was formed, and several others soon followed. The new Indian community colleges sought federal legislation and financial aid to support student scholarships. The Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act (PL95-471) was enacted by Congress in 1978. The tribal colleges formed a national organization, American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), and soon admitted more colleges. By 2006 there were thirty-five tribally controlled community colleges in AIHEC.

Along with the contracting of reservation day schools by the tribal governments, these colleges reflect a concern for education that is informed by community culture and participation. Many Native students finish high school but do not want to leave the reservation community to enter college, but the tribally controlled community colleges have given many reservation Indian students the opportunity to remain in their community, while gaining the knowledge and skills useful for employment and for building stronger Indian communities, nations, and governments.

Many tribal communities continued to pursue primary rights and issues, often with the support of lawyers funded through legal aid or through the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). Tribal communities asserted land claims and made challenges to open discussion and legal disposition from broken treaties or forgotten laws and rights. Before the 1960s, Indian communities were less able to pursue legal claims in U.S. courts, and U.S. courts were often unsympathetic. For decades, the Indian tribes in Washington State pursued fishing rights from treaties signed during the 1850s providing that Indians could fish in their ancient fishing places and that they were entitled to take fish "in common" with immigrating Anglo-Americans each season. In 1974, a legal decision by Judge George Boldt, often called the Boldt decision, upheld the fishing treaty rights of many Washington tribal communities. Boldt interpreted the treaty phrase "in common with" to mean that Indians had a right to as much as half the salmon harvest. His decision was upheld on appeal.

Treaty rights, including fishing rights, also were contested in Wisconsin and Michigan, where tribal communities gained less favorable rulings, but ones that partially upheld treaty rights. The Alaska Natives during the 1960s, after Alaska was established as a state, claimed most of the territory of Alaska, and eventually a negotiated settlement in Congress resulted in the Alaska Native Claims Act of 1971. The Alaska Natives land claims were negotiated with Congress, setting the stage for the settlement of other major claims. Lawyers working with the northern Maine Indians made an argument that land had been illegally treated from Maine Indians, such as the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot, in violation of the federal Non-Intercourse Acts, passed as early as 1790, that prohibit states from treating for land with Indians without federal approval. The Passamaquoddy land-claim settlement in Maine (1980) led to negotiated land settlements, and other tribes in the original thirteen colonies began to seek federal recognition and land from the U.S. government. In the early 1980s, the Pequots, their reservation under Connecticut state administration from the 1650s, sought and gained congressional approval for federal recognition. The Narragansetts of Rhode Island did the same, and more recently the Mohicans of Connecticut also received federal recognition.

Many of the terminated tribes also pursued reclamation of tribal government and community through legal action. During the early 1970s, a group of Menominees worked through Congress to obtain an act that restored federal recognition. A difficult lobbying process ended successfully, and the Menominees recovered part of their former reservation. Soon many other terminated communities sought congressional acts for restoration to federally recognized tribal status. In California, either by court cases or legislation, more than forty terminated tribes were restored to federal recognition. California Indian Legal Services, at one time a federally funded organization, helped many tribes with developing courts cases and working through the restoration procedures. The large majority of the hundred and ten terminated tribes have been restored, and those communities have reclaimed land and renewed tribal governments.

A related contemporary community movement is composed of Indian communities that have not been federally recognized and that are seeking recognition. To date, more than five hundred and sixty Indian communities are federally recognized as Indian tribes by the U.S. government, most of them through treaty relations or Congressional acts. Federal recognition allows a community to enjoy federal trust relations with the United States, especially protections for Indian reservation lands, so that they cannot be taken from or sold by the tribe without permission and oversight from the BIA or Secretary of the Interior. More than two hundred communities have petitioned for federal recognition and more nonrecognized Indian communities may be eligible.

Currently, tribal communities seeking recognition apply to the Office of Federal Acknowledgment. The situation of nonrecognized Indian communities was documented in a congressional report on Indian issues produced by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the middle 1970s. Legislation enabling the BIA to solicit, analyze, and make recommendations for recognition was passed into law in the late 1970s. The process for tribal communities to secure federal recognition is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, and relatively few have been recognized through the formal BIA procedures. Perhaps only several cases are considered each year, but the entire process may take decades. Recent reorganizations in the Office of Federal Acknowledgment are designed to speed up the process. Tribal communities seeking federal recognition often do not have enough resources to fulfill the requirements proving continuous political community throughout their history to the present. Many tribal communities, often ignored and marginalized throughout their recent history, are in difficult positions to comply with federal recognition requirements. Nevertheless, many communities continue to seek federal recognition, acquire land, and form tribal governments.

Not only are tribal communities mobilized at the national and local levels, but many tribal leaders and nations, particularly groups of Iroquois, Lakota, and Hopi, have approached the United Nations (U.N.) and other international institutions seeking the recognition of indigenous rights and the preservation of cultural and political autonomy. International conferences have been held on indigenous issues, and indigenous leaders and communities have spent years working on a document called the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has not received broad support and recognition within the United Nations, even though indigenous peoples from around the world participate in drafting it. Some American Indian leaders and organizations seek international alliances and international bodies to induce nation-states such as the United States to recognize indigenous rights. During the 1970s, many indigenous groups protested outside the United Nations building to gain a voice and recognition. The protests led to a series of international conferences on indigenous issues and, more recently, to the establishment of NGO (non-government organization) status for indigenous peoples in the U.N. There are some differences of opinion about the value of indigenous peoples working within the U.N. One argument is that the U.N. is a club of nation-states that fears potentially politically destabilizing effects on less established democracies or nation-states. Therefore the assertions of indigenous rights for greater cultural and political autonomy will not find significant support in the U.N. Others argue that the participation and presence of indigenous peoples in the U.N. and in other international venues, as well as international recognition of indigenous rights, will create a moral standard providing protections to indigenous peoples that would otherwise not be available to them.

American Indians and indigenous peoples around the world have increasingly mobilized to pursue greater political and cultural autonomy and protections that will enable them to live and work more in accord with their cultural and political traditions. Recent decades have been characterized by greater cultural, political, and economic mobilization among American Indians at the local, national, and international levels. Many Indian groups and organizations have emerged at national levels, pursuing professional, artistic, media, sport, cultural, economic, and political goals. The mobilization of American Indian communities, not only at local community levels, but also at national and political levels, is a significant marker for present-day Indian policy. More than ever before, American Indian individuals are participating in U.S. national organizations and institutions, often pursuing tribal cultural and political goals within the framework of U.S. and international organizations. In many ways, American Indian communities, leaders, and organizations have come to actively participate in U.S. national political and cultural organizations and generally play by U.S. rules.

Most American Indians have strong loyalties of citizenship to the United States, but at the same time many believe that the United States should recognized the history, legal, and international relations of Indians with the United States. Since the granting of U.S. citizenship to American Indians in 1924, many have retained two citizenships, one as a member of a tribal community and the other as a citizen of the United States. While most American Indian individuals and communities are loyal to the United States and fight honorably in U.S. wars, American Indians seek recognition of their rights to tribal governments, culture, and land from time immemorial, which predate the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the formation of the United States.

On a variety of fronts over the past fifty years, American Indians have mobilized to realize their claims to cultural and political autonomy and have done so as active participants within U.S. institutions and political relations. In a certain sense, Indian groups and political activities are incorporated into U.S. political and institutional culture, but they continue to pursue unique goals of cultural and political autonomy that are often contrary to U.S. legal and political culture. No other ethnic or political group advocates for the preservation and enhancement of self-government, for the recovery and continuity of non-Western culture, and for institutional and political forms. The unusual goals and interests of American Indian nations make interaction with core American institutions, cultural groups, and political interests very difficult, and hence Indian issues are often not easily solved or well understood.

The Most Recent Policy Period (1980–2006)

Since 1980, the U.S. political environment for American Indian goals and values has become less forthcoming overall. The trend in U.S. policy is toward fiscal conservatism, and, while there is more emphasis on local government autonomy, there is also more emphasis on local governments finding their own ways to support their needs. While the trends toward greater local self-sufficiency is congruent with many Indian government goals, many reservation communities still do not have local economies that can support their populations, and cutbacks in federal funding have created less support for tribal governments and programs. Many tribal governments have retained many of the gains in bureaucratic and government organization created during the 1960s and 1970s. While tribal governments and communities have become better organized and mobilized since 1980, the decline in federal resources, as well as in legal and administrative support, has led to fewer new opportunities for assertion or for the accomplishment of tribal political and cultural goals. The BIA's administration slowly is moving toward management of trust responsibility, with less emphasis and funds for the delivery of services to Indian communities.

While funding from the federal government has declined, so have legal and court opportunities as a result of more conservative supreme and district courts. During the 1960–1980 period, tribal communities won several significant cases upholding the powers of tribal governments as long as they had not been explicitly withdrawn by an act of Congress or violated the U.S. Constitution. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, court cases brought before the federal courts began to chip away at earlier legal gains. While much of the legal action of the 1960s to 1980s helped to reaffirm Indian rights to self-government under U.S. law, recent cases have eroded the internal powers of tribal governments. The conservative courts have been less willing to recognize long-standing land claims, the powers of tribal courts over non-Indians, the trust land for Alaska Natives, and the rights of Indians to keep sacred places free from non-Indian interference. A string of legal losses has discouraged Indian lawyers and governments from pursuing remedies in U.S. federal and state courts.

A major exception to the trend has been the affirmation of tribal government sovereignty in the California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in 1987. The Cabazon case provided significant legal support for Indian gaming in California and elsewhere and quickly led to a resolution of state and Indian interests surrounding gaming in the Indian Gaming Regulation Act of 1988 (IGRA). Congress sought to regulate Indian gaming and invite negotiated compacts between states and tribal governments on how gaming would be managed on Indian reservations. The gaming scenario illustrates the dynamics of the latest policy period. While the support of Indian issues and goals from U.S. government executive, legislative, and judicial institutions is less than in the past, Indian communities are more mobilized and willing to take advantage of any new opportunities they see in their economic, political, or cultural interests. The IGRA enabled many Indian communities eventually to work out with states ways in which to foster gaming establishments on Indian reservations.

Most Indian communities as late as the 1990s were relatively impoverished. Gaming was not a government program advocated by federal policy makers, and most government-formulated economic development projects in Indian Country have been short-lived and generally limited in success. Gaming emerged from tribal groups, like the Cabazon, who actively sought ways to develop market economies on reservations, often with extremely limited assets and possibilities. Tribal communities fought hard in state and federal legislatures, through referenda, and in negotiations with state governments, as well as in courts, to establish tribal rights to manage gaming establishments on reservations. While many Indian communities may have second thoughts about gaming on moral grounds, for many tribal communities gaming is one of few options available to them. The IGRA includes rules requiring that at least 70 percent of tribal gaming profits be redistributed for programs, infrastructure, and support of tribal members or tribal government. Gaming revenues are shared within the community; they support tribal communities and can be used for the diversification of the reservation economy and for future investment. Well over two hundred Indian communities are managing gaming establishments, but probably less than thirty make large profits. Isolated rural communities are not well located to draw significant gaming revenues, and, although tribal gaming is grossing in excess of $12 billion annually, the funds are not evenly distributed throughout Indian Country.

Indian Policy Now and in the Future

Indian communities have entered a policy era in which U.S. political institutions are less favorable to tribal interests and goals. At the same time, tribal communities never before have been so willing and able to participate in American national political and cultural institutions, but on their own terms. Most American Indians want and are willing to participate in American society, but they also want to uphold Native identity and tribal rights, including territory, self-government, and traditional cultural orientations. American Indians are more capable and better equipped than ever to participate in American society, but they want to do so with reference to their own histories, cultures, and political rights. Tribal communities will continue to mobilize themselves and become more capable in expressing their views and interests. Most likely, tribal communities and Indian individuals will become part of American society and institutions, not fully assimilated, but as dual citizens. If U.S. policies remain austere, then tribal communities will be encouraged to seek market-based solutions to their economic and government problems. While tribal communities will become more capable of participating beneficially in U.S. society and the economy on their own cultural and political terms, most likely those capabilities and opportunities will be spread unevenly around Indian Country.

Duane Champagne


Further Reading
Light, Steven Andrew, and Kathryn R. L. Rand. 2005. Indian Gaming and Tribal Sovereignty: The Casino Compromise. Case Studies on Contemporary Social Issues. Series edited by John A. Young. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.; Nagel, Joane. 1996. American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Red Power and the Resurgence of Identity and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.; Treat, James. 2003. Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era. New York: Macmillan.
 

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