Chapter Nine: New Deals and Old Deals

Chapter Nine

 New Deals and Old Deals



In Chapter 9 we move from the Indian New Deal, through World War II and the era of termination, and finally the beginnings of the era of self-determination during the 1960s and the height of Native American activism at the end of the decade and carrying over into the first half of the 1970s. Throughout, native peoples were not passive actors, waiting for the federal government to act upon them. In the face of programs, policies, and historical developments with far reaching consequences for their communities, lands that many had transformed from prisons into homelands, native peoples sought to influence government policy and public opinion to protect their peoples’ interests.


To Learn More

On the implementation of the Indian Reorganization Act, see Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities Around Puget Sound, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) for the Coast Salish; Frederick Hoxie, Parading Through History: The Making of the Crow Nation in America, 1805-1935, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) for the Crows; Laurence M. Hauptman, The Iroquois and the New Deal, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1981).  For Collier’s role in the debate, see David W. Daily, Battle for the BIA: G.E.E. Lindquist and the Missionary Crusade Against John Collier, (Tucson: Univesrity of Arizona Press, 2004); Lawrence C. Kelley, The Assault on Assimilation: John Collier and the Origins of Indian Policy Reform, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983) and Kenneth R. Philp, Termination Revisited: American Indians on the Trail to Self-Determination, 1933-1953, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999) and John Collier’s Crusade for Indian Reform, 1920-1954, (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977).

For the experience of native peoples fighting in the second World War, and the significant changes the war brought to the homefront in Native America, see Alison Bernstein, American Indians and World War II: Toward a New Era in Indian Affairs, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991); Jere’ Bishop Franco, Crossing the Pond: The Native American Effort in World War II, (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 1999); Laurence M. Hauptman, The Iroquois Struggle for Survival: World War II to Red Power (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986); and Kenneth William Townshend, World War II and the American Indian, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000).  For the National Congress of American Indians, founded in Denver in 1944, see Thomas W. Cowger, The National Congress of American Indians: The Founding Years, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999)

For the multi-faceted policy of termination, see Heather Ponchetti Daly, “Fractured Relations at Home: The 1953 Termination Act’s Effect on Tribal Relations Throughout Southern California Indian Country,” American Indian Quarterly, 33 (September 2009), 427-439; Donald L. Fixico, Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986); Nicholas C. Peroff, Menominee Drums: Tribal Termination and Restoration, 1954-1974, (Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 1982). See also Daniel M. Cobb, Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty, (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2008); Frederick C. Hoxie, This Indian Country: American Indian Political Activists and the Place They Made. (New York: Penguin, 2012 and Paul Rosier, Serving Their Country: American Indian Patriotism in the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009) and “‘They Are Ancestral Homelands’: Race, Place and Politics in Cold War Native America, 1945-1961,” Journal of American History, 92 (2006), 1300-1326.

The Senecas’ concerns during the Termination era are covered in Hauptman, The Iroquois Struggle for Survival and In the Shadow of Kinzua: The Seneca Nation of Indians Since World War II, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2014);  Joy A. Bilharz, The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation Through Two Generations, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998) and Paul Rosier, “Dam-Building and Treaty-Breaking: The Kinzua Dam Controversy, 1935-1958,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 119 (October 1995).

For the Crows’ fight against the Yellowtail Dam, see Megan Benson, “The Fight for Crow Water, Part II: Damming the Bighorn,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, 58 (Spring 2008), 3-23; Frank Rzeczkowski, Uniting the Tribes: The Rise and Fall of Pan-Indian Community on the Crow Reservation, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012).

For the Indian Claims Commission, see Harvey D. Rosenthal, Their Day in Court: A History of the Indian Claims Commission, (New York: Garland, 1990) and Pamela S. Wallace, “Indian Claims Commission: Political Complexity and Contrasting Concepts of Identity,” Ethnohistory, 39 (Fall 2002), 743-767.  There is ample room for more historical work on the functioning and significance of the Indian Claims Commission.

For the Supreme Court’s important decisions in the 1950s, see R. Bruce Duthu, American Indians and the Law (New York: Viking, 2008) and Frank Pommersheim, Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).  For the urbanization of native peoples, see Coll Thrush, Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007) and “City of Changers: Indigenous People and the Transformation of Seattle’s Watersheds,” Pacific Historical Review, 75 (February 2006), 89-117; Donald L. Fixico, The Urban Indian Experience in America, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000); Douglas K. Miller, Willing Workers: Urban Relocation and American Indian Initiative, 1940s-1960s,” Ethnohistory 60 (Winter 2013), 51-76; Lawney L. Reyes, Bernie Whitebear: An Urban Indian’s Quest for Justice. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006).  For Los Angeles as a center of American Indian urbanization, see Ned Blackhawk, “I Can Carry on from Here: The Relocation of American Indians to Los Angeles,” Wicazo Sa Review, 11 (1995), 16-30 and Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

For the Indian policies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, see Thomas Clarkin, Federal Indian Policy in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000; Daniel Cobb, Say We are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America Since 1887 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty, (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2008), “ ‘Us Indians Understand the Basics’: Oklahoma Indians and the Politics of Community Action, 1964-1970,” Western Historical Quarterly, 33 (Spring 2002), 41-66, and “Philosophy of an Indian War: Indian Community Action in the Johnson Administration’s War on Indian Poverty, 1964-1968,” AICRJ, 22 (no. 2., 1998); Paul C. Rosier, Serving Their Country: American Indian Patriotism in the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009); and, generally, Hoxie, This Indian Country, Donald L. Parman, Indians and the American West in the Twentieth Century, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

For the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, in addition to several of the works mentioned above, see Andrew Graybill, “‘Strong on the Merits and Powerfully Symbolic’: The Return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo,” New Mexico Historical Review, 76 (no.2, 2001), 125-160.

For the Red Power movement, see the documents compiled by Daniel M. Cobb and Loretta Fowler, eds., Beyond Red Power: American Indian Politics and Activism Since 1900, (Santa Fe: School of America Research Press, 2007); Hauptman, Iroquois Struggle for Survival; Alvin M. Josephy, Joane Nagel and Troy R. Johnson, eds., Red Power: The American Indians’ Fight for Freedom,, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999); Paul R Mackenzie-Jones, Clyde Warrior: Tradition, Community, and Red Power (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015); Joanne Nagel, American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Red Power and the Resurgence of Identity and Culture, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); and Sherry Smith, Hippies, Indians and the Fight for Red Power, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).  A good overview is offered by Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, (New York: The New Press, 1996).  Edmund Wilson, Apologies to the Iroquois. (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), is still available.  Paul Chaat Smith’s Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong (St. Paul: University of Minnesotat Press, 2009), is a witty and powerful discussion of the 1960s and 1970s in Indian Country.



In addition to understanding the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, students of the Indian New Deal might want to know as well about the establishment of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board in 1935 (it still exists) and the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936, which extended the terms of the IRA to native peoples living in that state.  Felix Cohen played an important role in overseeing the writing of tribal charters under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act.  His overview of Indian Law your students might find interesting.

There were many Native American critics of the Indian New Deal: Delos Lonewolf, a Kiowa; Max Big Man (Crow); Alice Lee Jemison (Seneca); and Elwood Towner.  These critics should be taken seriously, however extreme their rhetoric.  Jemison’s career is ably described by Laurence M. Hauptman.

For the Native American experience in the Armed Forces, see Naval History and Heritage Command website, which offers an accessible overview students might find useful.   See also their “American Indians in the Navy” website.  For interviews with the Navajo Code-Talkers, see their organization’s website and the “Native Words, Native Warriors” exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Even during the war years, some American political leaders began moving towards a set of policies towards native peoples that would later come to be known as “termination.” In part to resist these changes, Native American activists formed the National Congress of American Indians in 1944.  Termination consisted of several different components.  First, there was the extension of state law over Indian Country, something begun with the so-called “Spite Bills” in New York State expanding state criminal jurisdiction over Indian Lands in 1948, and civil jurisdiction in 1950.  House Concurrent Resolution 108 expanded upon this logic, followed by the passage of Public Law 280, both in 1953.  The most forceful advocate of this shift in federal policy was Utah Senator Arthur Watkins.  His most important statement on the policy appeared in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 311 (May 1957), and is excerpted in Prucha’s Documents of United States Indian Policy.

During the Termination era, federal authorities wanted to exploit natural resources in Indian Country. They also wanted to dam rivers, both to prevent flooding, and to generate electricity.  The National Park Service has produced a rather antiseptic pamphlet on the Yellowtail Dam geared towards tourists; Indian Country Today in 2015 gave its readers “9 Reasons Not to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Kinzua Dam.”  Both dam projects drew upon a long legal and constitutional body of thought.  The Senecas rested their opposition to Kinzua on the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua; the Crows relied upon the ruling of the Supreme Court in the 1908 Winters v. United States decision.

The Indian Claims Commission, established in 1946, was another important part of the policy of termination.  The Commission’s decisions are available online.  The law offered the government an opportunity to clear its remaining obligations to native peoples.  The Supreme Court, meanwhile, issued a number of troubling decisions regarding the rights of native nations.  See the Tee-Hit-Ton Indian v. United States (1955) and the case of Williams v. Lee (1959).

For the urbanization of native peoples, see the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, though the process began within the confines of the Bureau of Indian Affairs before this date. The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1954, excerpted in Prucha’s Documents of United States Indian Policy, provides some useful perspective as well.  N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn captured something of the experience of urban Indians, as did Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.  Both novels work well in the classroom.

A final component of the policy were the termination acts passed by Congress themselves.  The Menominee Termination Act of 1954 is especially well-known because of its terrible consequences, but it was by no means the only termination act.  For the Klamath Termination Act, and background on how the policy affected Indians in Oregon State, click on this link.

Termination directly impacted relatively few native communities, but the fears the policy generated led to activism and movements by native peoples to assert control over their lives and their nations.  Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton in 1958 announced that no Indian tribes would be terminated against their will. His address to Congress is excerpted in Prucha’s Documents of United States Indian Policy. The Commission on the Rights, Liberties, and Responsibilities of the American Indian issued is Program for Indian Citizens: A Summary Report in 1961.  Prucha excerpted the first four pages in Documents. The Task Force on Indian Affairs issued its report in 1961 as well, which also appears in Prucha.  The “Declaration of Indian Purpose,” the most far-reaching in its proposals, is worth reading as well, a product of the Chicago American Indian Conference.

Native Americans offered counter-proposals to federal policies.  They also engaged in protest.  The writings of these young activists are worth reading. Some of the best are excerpted in Daniel Cobb’s Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America. For the activism of the American Indian Movement, the Zinn Education Project has a helpful website. For the occupation of Alcatraz, see the National Park Service publication on Alcatraz Island and Native Voices.  For the Fish-Ins see the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project.  PBS and the American Experience produced an episode on Wounded Knee as part of its “We Shall Remain” documentary. The video is available for purchase, but a transcript is available online. For the troubles at Wounded Knee that followed the occupation: Dick Wilson’s repression of his opponents, the murder trial and conviction of Leonard Peltier, you can read the following story in Aljazeera.  Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and other AIM leaders were frequently quoted in the nation’s major newspapers and in the national print media.  If your college library has a decent selection of databases, students may be able to read more about these events.

The chapter closes with a discussion of tribal enterprise and institution building.  Students can follow links to the Daybreak Star Cultural Center and Cherokee Nation Businesses.


Assignments and Study Questions

  1. People, Peoples, Places and Things


John Collier                                                     Indian Reorganization Act

Indian New Deal                                             Omnibus Mineral Leasing Act of 1938

Indian Arts and Crafts Board                       Civilian Conservation Corps

Dispossession                                                   Seneca Arts Project

Gladys Tantaquidgeon                                    Felix Cohen

tribal constitutions                                           Delos Lonewolf.

W. W. Gilbert                                                     Robert Yellowtail

blood-quantum                                                  Amos Oneroad

World War II                                                      Elwood A. Towner

Joseph Bruner                                                    Alice Lee Jemison

draft                                                                      Code Talkers

Wilfred Crouse                                                   Ex Parte Green (1942)

Walter Ashby Plecker                                        National Congress of American Indians

Ruth Muskrat Bronson                                     Dan Madrano

Termination                                                         Karl Mundt

William Zimmerman                                          Arthur Watkins

Cold War                                                               HCR 108

G.I. Bill of Rights                                                 PL 280

United States v. Forness (1942)                      Kinzua Dam

Yellowtail Dam                                                    Winters v. United States (1908)

Glen Emmons                                                      National Congress of American Indians

Indian Claims Commission                               Tee-hit-tons

Williams v. Lee (1959)                                        Dillon Myer

Voluntary Relocation Program                          urbanization

Wilma Mankiller                                                   N. Scott Momaday

Pipestone Boarding School                                 BIA Adoption Program

Phileo T. Nash                                                        Public Housing Administration

Small Business Administration                          Head Start

Great Society                                                          Office of Economic Opportunity

Blue Lake                                                                 Red Power

“Blueprint for Indian Citizens”                            Keeler Commission

Declaration of Indian Purpose                             Chicago Conference

National Indian Youth Council                            Robert Warrior

Fish-Ins                                                                     Vine Deloria

American Indian Movement                                 Dennis Banks

Clyde Bellocourt                                                       John Trudell

Russel Means                                                           Indians of All Nations

Alcatraz                                                                     Fort Lawton

Indian Community School                                    Trail of Broken Treaties

Wesley Bad Heart Bull                                           Dick Wilson

Pine Ridge Reservation                                          GOON Squad

Wounded Knee, 1973                                              Leonard Crow Dog

landless Indians                                                       TANAC


  1. Discussion Questions and Writing Assignments


  1. Students can do a lot with federal court cases involving the rights of Native American communities.  In this chapter, I make reference to the Tee-Hit-Ton and Williams v. Lee decisions by the United States Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court decision in Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council (1959). By asking students to consider the facts in each case, the constitutional questions those facts present, and the court’s answer to those questions, one can arrive at some understanding of the complexity of Native America rights in a representative republic.  In what ways were decisions like these consistent with the policy known as “termination”?  Were the federal courts moving more quickly towards “self-determination” than the other branches of the government?
  2. The Termination and Self-Determination eras in Native American history witnessed significant activism on the part of native peoples.  Some of this owed to a series of reports and statements published in 1961, each of which emerged from a different political context.  Students might read excerpts of the Keeler Commission Report, the report of the Task Force on Indian Affairs, and the Declaration of Indian Purpose.  On what did these advocates for native communities agree? Where did they disagree, and why?
  3. This chapter focuses to a great extent on the Indian New Deal and its consequences.  It was a controversial piece of legislation. Many native communities rejected the centerpiece of Roosevelt’s Indian New Deal, the “Indian Reorganization Act” of 1934.  Why? Students should read the legislation closely and attempt to understand why some native peoples saw in the legislation a threat.
  4. Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, Native American migration to America’s urban centers increased significantly in volume. Why did this migration occur? The government, after World War II, ran a relocation program, but many native peoples moved on their own without government assistance.  Why?  What was life like in America’s cities for native peoples?
  5. Why did federal Indian policy begin to shift during World War II from the Indian New Deal towards a new policy called “Termination.”  What exactly was termination? Of what did the policy consist?
  6. The termination era was a frightening one for native peoples, and beginning in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the federal government began to move tentatively towards a policy that we now call “Self-Determination.”  Why? How?
  7. What are the limits of “self-determination”?  How far do the powers retained by native peoples really extend?

A Discussion Forum for Teaching and Writing Native American History