Changing Status of American Indians

May 26, 1954

Report Outline
New Turn in Fedaral Policy Toward Indians
Conditions Among Indians on Reservations
Obstacles to Ending Federal Supervision

New Turn in Fedaral Policy Toward Indians

Curtailment of Government Role in Indian Affairs

Drastic changes in the relationship between the federal government and American Indians, foreshadowed toward the end of the Truman administration, have been set in motion since President Eisenhower took office. Federal supervision over tribal affairs of one-sixth of the nation's Indians will be terminated by the enactment of bills now pending in Congress. It is proposed, moreover, that, as additional tribes become ready to assume full responsibility for their own welfare, the federal government shall move progressively toward complete abandonment of its traditional role of protector of Indian rights and property. Glenn Emmons, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior, said early this year: “We can anticipate in 1954 and the years that lie ahead a steady reduction of federal participation in Indian affairs. This is the keynote of the policy formulated by Secretary McKay. …It is also the … congressional policy.” Application of the projected policy, as presently envisioned, will ultimately have far-reaching effects. It will eliminate the Indian reservation as a government-protected preserve for exclusive Indian use. It will dissolve the government's trusteeship over tribal property and subject that property to taxation. It will terminate certain Indian privileges, such as the right to fish and hunt out of season. And it will end legal recognition of tribal governments and deny to Indians the benefits of numerous federal health, welfare, educational, and other services established specifically to meet their needs.

Concern Over Possible Injury to Indian Welfare

Plans to curtail sharply the government's role in Indian affairs, though welcomed in certain quarters, have brought strong protests from the Indians themselves and from groups dedicated to Indian interests. They regard the new policy as the latest in a historic series of government betrayals of the red man. Many spokesmen for the Indians and Indian interests contend that withdrawal of federal protection will result in destroying tribal cultures and in reducing already low standards of living. They fear that in the end many Indians will be cast adrift in a society they do not understand and in which they are poorly equipped to compete.

Individual Indiana have moved, voluntarily and successfully, into the main stream of American life; others, while retaining tribal membership, have gained a high degree of economic self-sufficiency. More than a century of government tutelage, however, has failed to lead a good many of the nation's 400,000 Indians to levels of competence that can be considered satisfactory by the white man's standards. Some Indians live as their ancestors did, in cultural isolation from the national life; they lack the education, skills, and economic resources to hold their own with white fellow-citizens.

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