In the 1930s, the Commissioner of Indian affairs, John Collier, initiated the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The IRA became the centerpiece of what Collier called the “Indian New Deal,” and explicitly recognized and encouraged Indian tribes as sovereign nations. IRA allowed Indian communities to write constitutions and organize tribal governments to govern their own internal affairs.
Throughout his tenure and afterward, many congressmen and federal bureaucrats disagreed with Collier’s program. The notion of “civilizing” Indians persisted from colonial times well into the 1970s. During Collier's time in office, his detractors remained on the sidelines. But, when he left office in 1945, those dedicated to reversing Collier’s programs led a movement to “finish” assimilating Indians into American mainstream society. Reformers of the post-1945 era did not talk about “civilizing” the Indians but spoke instead of “freeing” and “emancipating” Indians from federal control. This movement culminated in The House Concurrent Resolution 108 of 1953.
Resolution 108 announced the immediate termination of the Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of California, New York, Florida and Texas. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations.
As this was a resolution, none of the terminations were official, yet. But the roll-out towards making Termination a law had begun. In 1954, The Menominee Termination Act was passed by Congress, severing all ties between that tribe and the U.S. Federal Government. Shortly afterward, the Klamath Termination, and the Western Oregon Indian Termination Acts were passed. Almost overnight, these tribes, all of whom were economically dependent upon the federal government were cut loose; poor, vulnerable, and seemingly without resources. Theses Acts did not accommodate a clear transition, and so lead to lawsuits over the details of Termination. The most vocal supporters of the Acts did not take into consideration: questions of land ownership and rights, the transitions from tribal government to “local” governments (which were often hundreds of miles away from the tribe), hunting and fishing rights were not clarified, and promises that had been made by the Federal Government to improve conditions on the reservations had yet to be fulfilled (all of which added up to a much larger bill for the Federal Government than if they had not instituted Termination in the first place).
With the taste for Termination loosing steam, only one more Act was passed, The California Rancheria Termination Act of 1958. In the meantime, another, more seemingly benevolent program entitled Relocation, was instituted in 1956.
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While "Termination" gained ground in the U.S. Congress, a program begun under the Bureau of Indian Affairs in1948 was promoted in tandem with the Termination movement. "Relocation" was introduced by the BIA to bring training and support to the isolated and rural people living on reservations. It claimed to be a program to aid reservation members in relocating to cities where they could receive vocational training. It was introduced and sold as a poverty-fighting measure.
Straightforward Termination of support to Indians was difficult to sell in Congress. Once it was coupled with a Relocation program, Termination became more and more palatable. The Relocation Act of 1956 created a voluntary jobs training program whereby Indians on reservations could apply for training, be sent to vocational classes, and then sent to one of nine urban industrial centers. Public Housing was supplied, at first at a no charge to the Relocated, and aid in finding a job was promised.
In reality though, Relocation, like so many earlier treaties, did not live up to the promises made. Indians were poorly, or inappropriately trained. The public housing they were offered differed widely from city to city, even within cities. In many cases, they were placed in substandard housing, in strange cities with little practical aid for finding jobs, schools, and a community.
The Relocation program was sold to a variety of tribes throughout the U.S. When they entered the program, few were kept in their same, tribal groups. With the drumbeat of Termination sounding in the background, one goal of Relocation was to "integrate tribal groups into mainstream America". On the ground though, Relocation was showing itself to be as deeply flawed a program as Termination. It's effect on the relocatees is still being felt today.
For more information on Relocation, see: