American Indians: Neglected Minority

August 24, 1966

Report Outline
New Effort to Better the Lot of Indians
Federal Indian Policy Through the Years
Social and Economic Aspects of Indian Life

New Effort to Better the Lot of Indians

Federal Plans to Raise Indian Living Standards

American indians, as a member of Congress put it in a recent letter to President Johnson, have “yet to feel the healing, remedial touch of the Great Society.” However, administration officials from the President down have made it clear that they are fully aware of the problem and that they are determined to take effective action to improve the living conditions of Indians.

When Robert L. Bennett was sworn in as Commissioner of Indian Affairs last April 27, Johnson noted that “Far too many of our Indians live under conditions which make a mockery of our claims to social justice.” Declaring that the time had come “to put the first Americans first on the agenda,” the President promised to place the “full power of the Presidency” behind efforts to reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs “to get the job done.” A fortnight earlier, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall had told representatives of 62 Indian tribes at Santa Fe, N. M., that “all the forces of the government” would be marshaled for the task of ending the poverty afflicting a majority of the 380,000 Indians and Alaskan natives under the supervision of the federal government. “We may just as well … pick ourselves off the floor,” Udall said, “because we have no way to go but up.”

Commissioner Bennett reported to the Senate Interior Committee, July 12, that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was working on proposed legislation to eliminate so far as possible the federal paternalism whose “stifling effects,” he asserted, had restricted Indian development. At the same time, Bennett noted that only Congress could make a decision to terminate all federal supervision of Indian affairs. Unless and until such a decision is made, the commissioner said, Indians want Congress to “meet its responsibilities to them, the same as its national commitment to others, of maximum social and economic development.” With time running out for the 89th Congress, Indian problems and legislation aimed to solve them will become the concern of the Congress to be elected on Nov. 8.

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