A view on American Indians in the United States from World War II to the present

Seminar Paper, 2005

29 Pages, Grade: 2,0



I. Introduction

II. Historical Review
II.1. The First Encounters
II.2. 1783-1887 Conquest, Removal and Relocation
II.3. 1887-1928 Allotment and Assimilation
II.4. 1928-1945 Tribal Restoration
III. Federal Policy regarding American Indians after the Second Word War
III.1. Termination
III.2. The Way to Self-Determination

IV. The Legal Rights of American Indians
IV.1. Civil Liberties
IV.1.1. American Citizenship
IV.1.2. Voting Rights
IV.2. American Indian Religious Freedom
IV.3. The Rights to Basic Governmental Services
IV.3.1. Eligibility for Educational Benefits
IV.3.2. Eligibility for Social Service Benefits

V. Native American Contemporary problems
V.1. Poverty
V.2. Health Problems
V.3. Education

VI. Ethnic Renewal
VI.1. American Indian Activism since the 1960s
VI.1.1. The Fish-Ins
VI.1.2. The Red Power Movement
VI.2. Repatriation
VI.2.1. The Revival of American Indian Religions
VI.2.2. The Revival of Traditional American Indian Languages
VI.3. American Indian Identity or American Identity?! - The Participation of Indians in World War II

VII. Conclusion


I. Introduction

The United States of America is a country whose history has been shaped by immigration. Nevertheless, one should not forget that the native people of America, including Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians) contributed to what is now known as the United States. Interestingly, American Indians have been treated in history often like one of the other minority and immigrant groups. It is, however, obvious that American Indians have a special status within the United States because they are the indigenous people of the continent and in contrast to other ethnic minority groups they experienced the European settlement in the “New World” right from the beginning.

This paper will deal with the history of American Indians from 1941 to the present. This is supposed to be a rather contemporary view on American Indians in the U.S. society, since there have been a large number of studies concerning the American Indian past. The year 1941 marked an important date for the whole globe: It was the beginning of World War II, which changed the worldwide status quo. Due to this war, the Unites States became the world’s most powerful nation in terms of military, economy, and policy. This development has had of course an impact on the U.S. society with its entire people – the white European population, the Afro-American population, the Asian population, etc. During this process, the United States became the modern society we all know now, and for this reason the situation changed for minority groups, too In this paper, the focus will be on the status of American Indians in the U.S. society and their ethnic identity, but it will also be questioned if and how American Indians show their ties to the United States as their mother country.

Before going into detail, it may be necessary to talk about some terminology. The key words of this paper are “American Indians”. Some other scholars may refer to American Indians as “Native Americans”. This term is quite often called inappropriate because it includes Aleuts and Eskimos and sometimes even Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

In order to avoid such misunderstandings, it may helpful be to state that in this paper these terms as well as “Indians” only refer to the American Indians on the territory of the United States; American Indians in Canada, Latin America, etc. will not be of interest for this paper.

In order to understand American Indian affairs from 1941 to the present, it is useful to give a rough overview about the American Indian history in the United States. This little portray will underline the difference of the contemporary status of American Indians and the attitudes of the society towards them.

II. Historical Review

II.1. The First Encounters

When the first European settlers (especially English settlers) arrived in the “New World”, all American Indians were concerned because these settlers and the ones who followed dramatically shaped the life of American Indians in the United States.

David Mauk and John Oakland provide in their book “American Civilization - An Introduction” a short overview about important periods in American Indian history. During the first period of intercultural encounter there was relative peace between the newly arrived settlers and the indigenous people – the American Indians The American Indians taught the settlers how to survive in the “New World”, for example how to grow crops, where to find food, etc. But this short period did not last for a long time. Soon, white settlers wanted to expand and the misunderstandings caused by cultural differences grew. The conflicts increased continually and finally led to war. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the American Indians tried to expel the white settlers, which led to retaliation by the white population (American Civilization, 74).

Some white settlers also wanted the American Indians to assimilate; peculiarities for example were the so-called “praying towns” where American Indians who had adopted Christianity lived (American Civilization, 74).

The eighteenth century was shaped by Britain and France competing for power in their colonies. By treaty-making both countries fount allies among the various American Indian tribes, but the French were more successful in gaining allies. In order to reduce and stop alliances between the French and American Indians, the British government established the “Proclamation Line” which insisted that the territory west of the Appalachian mountains belonged to American Indians and that white settlers were not allowed to expand beyond this line (American Civilization, 76).

II.2. 1783-1887 Conquest, Removal and Relocation

In 1783 Britain passed the Treaty of Paris which granted the United States after their declaration of independence the territory south of Canada to the Mississippi River. When white settlers moved further to the West and crossed the Proclamation Line, a lot of American Indian tribes refused to give up their lands. As a consequence, the U.S. army intervened and took the land by conquest. In the end, American Indians received payments for leaving their lands (American Civilization, 77).

Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle claim that people at that time thought that they could live in peace with the American Indians if they assimilated into the white culture. This idea turned out to be naive since the cultural gap was too wide (American Indians, American Justice, 6). In 1830, President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act. As a result many tribes were pushed into reservations. One of the best known removals is surely the the removal of the Cherokees called “Trail of Tears”. They had to leave their ancestral lands under very harsh conditions. In fact, life in reservation was still dominated by white intrusions (American Indians, American Justice, 7).

II.3. 1887-1928 Allotment and Assimilation

With the railroads coming to the West, also industry came to the West of America. As American Indians could not be moved any further west, the only way of dealing with them seemed to be to assimilate them. In order to achieve this aim, it was thought to be necessary “to introduce among the Indians the customs and pursuits of civilized life” (American Indians, American Justice, 8).

For this reason the General Allotment Act – also called Dawes Act – was passed in 1887. American Indians were not used to possess private property. With this act tribal lands were distributed to American Indian individuals and the United States received the surplus lands (American Indians, American Justice, 9).

Another attempt of “Americanizing” American Indians was to abolish the tribes’ legal authority. In 1871, tribal sovereignty had come to an end and U.S. laws were introduced. The United States granted American Indians citizenship, which weakened the tribes’ authority even more. By 1924, U.S. citizenship was extended to all American Indians (American Civilization, 79).

II.4. 1928-1945 Tribal Restoration

During the 1920s, criticism of federal American Indian policies grew. Allotment was blamed responsible for the bad conditions in American Indian reservations (American Indians, American Justice, 12). President Franklin Roosevelt extended the ‘New Deal’ of the depression time to the ‘Indian New Deal’ in order to improve the living conditions in reservations, including health care system, pension fund, etc. One of the most important aspects of the ‘Indian New Deal’ is the Reorganization Act of 1934. With this act, allotment formally came to an end and the self-government of tribes was supposed to develop again (American Civilization, 81).

III. Federal Policy regarding American Indians after the Second Word War

III.1. Termination

The Second World War brought an end to the governmentally supported tribal restoration since money then money was needed for the war industry. In 1947, a commission was founded in order to list all those tribes who were able to manage their affairs without further federal assistance (American Indians, American Justice, 16).

By 1953, the majority of the Congress consisted of people advocating assimilation. To achieve assimilation, several programs were established: The first was supposed to settle American Indian claims against the United States concerning lost land and broken treaties. Only when these claims were resolved through financial compensation, could ‘termination’ take place. ‘Termination’ means that tribes and reservations should be dissolved as legal entities and that American Indians should no longer have a special status within the United States, but be ordinary citizens (American Civilization, 81).

First of all, some of the smaller West Coast reservations were terminated. However, the large tribes were not touched and still had a special status. The weakening of the larger tribes happened through weakening the authority of them. This means that in 1953 a public law passed Congress. This law “permitted state governments to assume both civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian reservations in the states of California, Minnesota, Nebraska; Oregon, Wisconsin, and the then-territory of Alaska”. Thus, the tribes and their governments were not directly terminated; instead they lost their power over intern civil and criminal problems. As a consequence, the tribal government lost slowly but continuously authority (American Indians, American Civilization, 18).

Aiming at self-sufficiency and social integration, one has to conclude that termination failed. For this reason, the termination era was brought to an abrupt end in 1958. Instead of enabling American Indian tribes to work self-sufficient, the termination policy often destroyed the Indian culture.


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A view on American Indians in the United States from World War II to the present
Dresden Technical University
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Stephanie Machate (Author), 2005, A view on American Indians in the United States from World War II to the present, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/75832


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