American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Termination

The positive experiences of some American Indians during the post–World War II era living off the reservations, receiving a regular salary, and having control of personal finances led to a call by some of the more assimilated American Indian people, supported by much of the non-Indian population, to "free" the Native American from the reservation system. Accordingly, such a move would "free" the federal government from its trust responsibility to American Indian peoples.

Conservative members of Congress, unhappy with the reforms enacted during the Indian New Deal, worked to have them rescinded even before Roosevelt left office. The members wanted to redefine Indian policy and terminate federal relations with some tribes. Their sentiments reflected the national mood of intolerance toward cultural diversity, as well as a desire to trim the federal bureaucracy created by the Roosevelt administration. They saw withdrawing services to Native Americans as one way to cut federal spending.

Some in Congress determined that it was in the best interest of Native Americans to phase out tribal governments and any guardian responsibilities of the federal government. Thus Congress would remove its protection from Native lands and encourage business leaders to help Native Americans develop their own resources. These same congresspersons maintained that Indians would assimilate faster into the population if they owned their lands outright and were allowed to trade freely. This approach would also open the way for states to tax Indian lands so that Native Americans could help pay for public services (Trafzer, 2000, 389).

The Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, which was part of the termination movement, turned out to be beneficial for the Native Americans. Under the provisions of this Act, Native Americans were allowed to file claims against the federal government for lands that had been illegally seized. Even though Native Americans could receive monetary compensation, no amount of money could make up for the upheaval and disruption to their way of life. Through the seizure of sacred lands and traditional hunting areas, the deeply held and sacred values of the tribes were disrupted and their usual means of support destroyed. However, compensation did provide Native Americans with funds that enabled them to get their economies moving, at least to some degree.

With conservatism growing strongly in the government and society, John Collier's successors, Commissioners of Indian Affairs William Brophy and John Nichols, were not able to withstand the pressure to roll back change. Conservative congresspersons and Dillon S. Myer, chosen by President Harry S. Truman in 1950 to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, favored termination. They were able to push through their agenda.

During World War II, Myer had been the director of the War Relocation Authority, which had forcibly removed Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. Myer had also been responsible for managing the rural relocation of thousands of people. Throughout the war, Myer maintained the position that Japanese Americans and cultural groups should be assimilated into the dominant society, thereby reducing racial conflicts.

It is not surprising that, when Myer became commissioner, he would act to have Native Americans assimilated into U.S. society. Toward this end, he launched a major counterrevolution against John Collier's policies. Myer believed that a Native American culture was nonexistent and that it was wrong for the government to encourage Native languages, arts, literature, and governments. He had little interest in cultural preservation programs and little concern for cultural pluralism, and he ordered an end to these programs.

Myer played down the role of Indian Day Schools, especially those that were on or near the reservations. He perceived that these schools made too many accommodations to the culture and the customs of the Native American tribes. Myer wanted boarding schools to be enlarged so that more children could be taken from the reservations and their parents. He wanted students to be taught the regular class subjects so that their assimilation would be hastened.

After the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president in 1952, Myer realized he would have no place in the new administration. He then offered his services to Glenn Emmons, the new commissioner for Indian affairs. In this capacity he helped draft a document for Congress endorsing termination. Through Myer's work and influence, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had already advocated termination as the "new" national Indian policy by the time that Emmons took over the position of commissioner of Indian affairs in 1953. It is of interest that neither Myer nor Emmons considered it necessary or appropriate to seek Native American advice in formulating the new policy.

Termination was a policy designed by politicians to achieve the withdrawal of federal services and funds that had been promised in treaties, laws, and agreements. Assimilationists were in the ascendancy again, and Congress passed legislation to desegregate Indian communities from mainstream American culture (Fixico, 1991). The administrators implemented the policy quickly before Native Americans had time to respond to the new threat. It would appear that Emmons had his own agenda in supporting termination. He was a former banker from New Mexico, a state with a large Native American population. Many business interests in the state were eager to reopen reservation lands. Emmons and Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah, chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, championed termination as a way of abolishing the tax-exempt status of tribes. Conservative congresspersons chaired the committees on Indian affairs in both houses. They spent time and energy to move a resolution quickly through Congress. On August 1, 1953, Congress unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 108.

The thrust of the resolution was that Indians would be subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as other Americans. The resolution abolished the status of Native peoples as wards and listed tribes in various states that were prepared to have federal services ended. Although House Concurrent Resolution 108 was not in itself law, it had the full support of Emmons and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and it marked the beginning of an official congressional termination policy.

The Federally Impacted Areas Aid Act (20 U.S. C. 236), passed by Congress in 1951, was the second act—the first being the Johnson O'Malley Act of 1934—designed to aid Native American education in public schools. The Impacted Aid Act assisted school districts that had a reduced tax base because of federally owned land, that is, it provided monies to schools responsible for educating children from armed service bases so that the local schools would not have to sustain an unfair burden. It also provided monies for the education of Native Americans. With this increased funding, local schools now saw the Native American student as fiscally desirable.

In spite of the Johnson O'Malley Act of 1934 and the Impacted Aid Act, it was evident that the federal government would continue to play a primary role in the funding of Native education. The federal–Indian trust relationship, the statutes passed by Congress to maintain that relationship, and the federal funding required to execute the responsibilities in Native education ensured that the federal government would continue to be involved. For their part, the Native communities were concerned with the degree of control that the federal government exerted through the maintenance of its responsibilities (AIPRC, 1976, 167–170).

In the early days of the Impacted Aid Act and its amendments, the states officially were required to make a choice between the Johnson O'Malley or Impact Aid. The Johnson O'Malley Act of 1934 provided supplemental funds to support education programs for Indian students attending public school and for the culturally related and supplementary academic needs of Indian children attending public schools. The Impacted Aid Act was amended in 1958 to allow state school systems to collect both through the Impact Aid Act for the basic support of schools and through the Johnson O'Malley Act for the support of the special education needs of Indian students.

Debate in the federal government resulted in the passage of six termination bills in 1953. In the course of only two weeks, both houses of Congress passed Public Law 280. The president signed the law, but he noted that Congress had not included a provision asking for Native consent to the law. The law placed Indian lands in Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, Nebraska, and Oregon under criminal and civil jurisdiction of the states. The law also invited other states to assume jurisdiction over Indian lands (Trafzer, 2000, 390–392). As a result, states were to assume responsibility for the education of Native American children.

In 1954, Congress passed the Klamath Termination Act. As a result, in 1958 approximately 77 percent of the Klamaths voted to terminate and receive a one-time per-capita payment of $43,000. The 23 percent who voted to retain their Klamath status in 1973 voted to withdraw from the tribe and receive a payment of $173,000. Even though Klamaths had terminated their sovereign relationship with the federal government, they were still identified as Indians. The termination did not work out. The Klamath tribe found that it did not have the infrastructure to function successfully in the changed economic conditions. In 1975 the Klamaths readopted their tribal status, and in 1978 Congress recognized the Klamaths and restored their status (Trafzer, 2000, 393–395).

In 1961, the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin was selected by the federal government for release from its governmental ties under the Termination Act. This termination was a disaster for the tribe. As a result of misunderstanding the terms of the Act, members of the tribe failed to invest the money they received or plan for a future without regular subsidy from the government. The tribe quickly used its cash reserves and was left without resources to satisfy basic needs and continue education services. When the Menominee did not receive money regularly, as was the custom, poverty and then diseases ravaged the tribe. As conditions worsened, the tribe sold much of its prime lands along the rivers and surrounding areas and left itself without resources (Trafzer, 2000, 394).

In all, about seventy tribes were part of the termination era policies. The Menominees of Wisconsin had previously experienced quite a high level of economic development. Termination brought disaster to the economy and health of the tribe. They experienced the effects of tuberculosis as well as a rapidly increasing infant mortality. When the Menominees experienced threats to their power and self-determination, they formed the group Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS) to reverse the effects of termination. President Richard M. Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act December 22, 1973 (87 Stat730, 25 U.S.C. 903 et seq.), restoring most of the reservation to the tribe and recognized them as a tribe. Thus began the end of termination.

Another outcome of the Termination Act was the relocation of many other tribes to urban areas. This relocation also proved disastrous, as many Native Americans had great difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings. When they did not adjust to life in the city, they returned to their lands only to find that they were greatly reduced in size. Tribes had been forced to sell large tracts of land, as they needed money for survival. It did not take too long for the government and the tribes to recognize that the termination program, as it was passed and implemented, was a failure (Reyhner and Eder, 1994, 52).

Besides amounting to a failure, the policies of the termination era were in conflict with the existing body of federal Indian law. In 1948, Felix S. Cohen, in the Handbook of Federal Indian Law, had consolidated this body of law, which had set the groundwork for interactions between the federal government and the Native Americans. Beginning with the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 108, termination was specified as federal policy for Indian tribes. From that point until the early 1970s, the drive for termination was maintained by the decentralization policy of the federal government, a desire to open up Indian lands, a desire for Native Americans to be assimilated, and a wish to cut back on social programs. In order not to emphasize the discrepancies between new legislation and previous laws, the BIA simply revised Cohen's 1948 book, deleting or changing sections that were in contradiction with new legislation. The bureau included new opinions to support new policies. The final move was to issue a new edition of Cohen's book in 1972 without mention of any previous editions. This version was and continues to be a highly regarded legal reference (Kickingbird and Charleston, 1991, 16).

Jeanne Eder


Further Reading
American Indian Policy Review Commission Final Report, submitted to Congress May 17, 1977.; Fixico, Donald. Urban Indians. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991; Kickingbird, K., and G. Charleston. 1991. Responsibilities and Roles of Governments and Native People in the Education of American Indians and Alaskan Natives (Report No. RC 018 612). Washington, DC: Indian Nations at Risk Task Force.; Reyhner, J., and J. Eder. 1994. "A History of Indian Education." In Teaching American Indian Students. Edited by J. Reyhner, 33–58. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.; Trafzer, C. 2000. As Long as the Grass Shall Grow and Rivers Flow: A History of Native Americans. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers.
 

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