Northwest Coast Masks and Headdresses (Photo Diary)

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The people of the Northwest Coast, particularly those in the Northern and Central portions of this culture area, are well known for their ceremonial masks. Masks are made from wood, primarily cedar and occasionally maple, which is then painted with three primary colors: black or blue, red, and white.

These masks are both art objects and objects with spiritual significance. Masks represent the animals and creatures of the four dimensions of the cosmos: the Sky World, the Mortal World, the Undersea World, and the Spirit World. One of the common themes in the mythology of the Northwest Coast is one in which ancestors come down from the sky and then remove their animal or bird costumes.

When used in ceremonies, the masks take on the life and spirit of the spirits which they represent. Traditionally, masks were guarded and hidden away, and not shown until they appeared in the ceremonial dance. Kwakwaka’wakw chief Robert Joseph notes:

“It is never known which masks will be shown or which dances will take place until the event happens.”

Shown below are some of the ceremonial masks and headdresses of the Northwest Coast which are currently on display at the Portland Art Museum.

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Shown about are some of the ceremonial masks.

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Shown above are some ceremonial dance headdresses.

Arctic Art (Photo Diary)

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The Arctic Culture Area spreads across northern North America and is an area which can be described as cold desert. It is a region which lies above the northernmost limit of tree growth. The area has long, cold winters and short summers. During the summer, the tundra becomes boggy and difficult to cross. Shown below is some of the art work produced by the Native people of the Arctic which is currently on display at the Portland Art Museum.

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Henry Roe Cloud, Winnebago Educator

Henry Cloud was born in 1884 (1882 or 1886 according to some sources) to the Winnebago Bear Clan (or possibly the Bird Clan) on the reservation in northeastern Nebraska. His tribal name was Wo-Na-Xi-Lay-Hunka (“War Chief”). At the age of seven he was conscripted by the Indian police and sent to the Genoa Indian School, a government-run boarding school. Here he learned English, was forbidden to speak his tribal language, and was converted to Christianity. He was then baptized Henry Clarence Cloud.

With regard to his conversion to Christianity, one of his biographers, Joel Pfister, writes:

“Roe Cloud employed Christianity spiritually and emotionally to empower not just himself but his people. Furthermore, organized Christianity gave him access to education and ruling social groups.”

With regard to his experience at Genoa, he would later write:

“I worked two years in turning a washing machine to reduce the running expenses of the institution. It did not take me long to learn how to run the machine, and the rest of the two years I nursed a growing hatred for it.”


Genoa Indian School is shown above.

He was orphaned by the age of 13 and sent to the Santee Mission School where he was trained to become a printer and blacksmith.

In 1901 he was admitted to the Mount Hermon Preparatory School in Massachusetts which had a work-study program through which he could finance his education. While he had been an outstanding student in the Indian schools, he soon found that he was unprepared to deal with the academic challenges of a college preparatory school. The school required all students to complete entrance exams on the first day of school and he passed on the tests in Bible, writing (penmanship), spelling, and geography. This meant that he had to enroll in the Preparatory Department.

In 1904, his financial condition required that he drop out of school for a year and work on a farm.

He graduated from Mount Hermon as salutatorian in 1906 and then attended Yale College. He graduated from Yale in 1910 with a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy and then went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Yale in 1912. He was the first full-blood Native American to graduate from Yale.

Henry Roe Cloud

Henry Roe Cloud is shown above.

While an undergraduate at Yale, Henry Cloud attended a lecture by the missionary Mary Wickham Roe who was involved in evangelical Christian mission work among the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Apache in Oklahoma. Her husband, the Reverend Walter Roe, was the Superintendent of Indian Missions for the Reformed Church. Henry Cloud developed a close relationship with the Roes and adopted their surname as his middle name. After this he was generally known as Roe Cloud.

As an Indian at Yale, Henry Roe Cloud became a celebrity and a proficient orator. He lectured to the public about the deficiencies of the government-run Indian schools and about the stereotype that Indian students were only suited to vocational educations.

In 1910, the Roes sponsored his appearance at the annual Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian, an influential and powerful group of non-Indians which stressed the assimilation of Indians into American society. In 1914, he addressed the group:

“Education unrelated to life is of no use. Education is the leading-out process of the young until they themselves know what they are best fitted for in life.”

In 1911, Henry Roe Cloud attended the first conference of the newly formed Society of American Indians at Ohio State University and was on a panel that discussed religious and moral issues.

In 1912, he headed a Winnebago delegation to Washington, D.C. where they met with President William Howard Taft. Taft was a Yale alumnus and his son had been Roe Cloud’s classmate. Roe Cloud’s Yale connections provided him with access to political power and politicians which were not available to reservation Indians.

In 1913 he attended the Auburn Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.

In 1915, Henry Roe Cloud opened the Roe Indian Institute in Kansas as a college preparatory school for Indians. This was the first Native American college preparatory school in the country. While it stressed academic study, it also included training in agriculture and the trades. When the school opened, it had only eight students. The school would later be renamed the American Indian Institute. The school closed in 1930 because of financial difficulties.

In 1916, Henry Roe Cloud married Elizabeth Georgian Bender, a Bad River Band Chippewa, who had taught on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and at the Carlisle Indian School.

In 1923 an elite panel known as the Committee of 100 was convened by the Secretary of the Interior to advise on Indian policy. Henry Roe Cloud served on this committee and advocated for the establishment of federally funded scholarships for Indians in college. The Committee supported the goal of assimilation, but called for a greater sensitivity to Indian customs and the protection of tribal land.

From 1926 until 1930, he was associated with the Brookings Institute and was involved with the study of Native American issues that resulted in the Meriam Report on “The Problem of Indian Administration.” His primary role was that of a traveling investigator visiting reservations.

In 1931, he went to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a field representative at large, a position that did not require passing the civil service test (which he had earlier failed). One of his investigations dealt with the significant financial mismanagement at Haskell Institute. He recommended that the school revert to a vocationally oriented program and be administered by an educator.

In 1933 he became the superintendent of the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas which was the largest American Indian high school in the country. Haskell was known for its victorious football teams, its 10,500-seat football stadium, and its strong emphasis on vocational training (particularly agriculture and printing). He was the first full-blood Indian to hold this position. As superintendent he helped lobby for the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.


Haskell Institute is shown above.

At Haskell, Roe Cloud encouraged students to read Indian history and to examine Indian customs and communal practices. He encouraged them to explore the influences of both individual Indians and Indian groups on American culture. He felt that Indians could give American culture what it lacked: a cultural antiquity which should be valued. He insisted that the so-called “New” World was just as old as Europe and that its history was important. While he felt it was important for Indians to assimilate into American culture, he also felt that they should import the Indian ways of thinking, valuing, and living into the dominant culture.

At Haskell, Roe Cloud gave Indian names to the recreational halls, authorized the teaching of Indian languages, sponsored Indian dances, and reprinted books of Indian legends.

In 1935, the Chicago-based Indian Council Fire awarded him its third annual Indian Achievement Award. The first of these awards had been given to Sioux writer and physician Dr. Charles Eastman and the second was awarded to Pueblo potter María Martinez.

In 1935, Roe Cloud left the Haskell Institute to help facilitate the newly passed Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). His job was to persuade Indians across the country to vote for tribal reorganization under the IRA.

In 1936, Henry Roe Cloud was named Supervisor of Indian Education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. One of his biographers, David Messer, writes:

“Despite the facts that he was only marginally responsible for supervising all of the educational work of the Indian Service and that the position sounded far more important than it was, his primary responsibility was to continue doing what he had been doing-trying to get the Indians to support the IRA.”

In 1939, the Indian Service (now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was facing budget cuts and Henry Roe Cloud was offered the superintendency of the Turtle  Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. This was a demotion with a smaller salary and a lower Civil Service rank. After he complained to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, he was named Superintendent of the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon, a smaller reservation with a smaller salary.

Even though he was Indian, the reservation Indians were still leery of the Indian Service and they had rejected reorganization under the IRA. When the Umatilla General Council debated about hiring an attorney, he opposed this action. He told the Council that there was no need for an attorney as he could look up all of the answers to their legal questions in the federal code book. The council, however, still insisted that it wanted its own attorney.

As a result of the conflict over the attorney for the Umatilla, Roe Cloud was appointed Superintendent at the Grande Ronde-Siletz Agency on the Oregon coast. Shortly after his appointment, the agency was abolished and for the next two years he attempted to untangle the complicated genealogical records to see who was entitled to the money owed tribal members by the government.  

He died of a heart attack in Siletz in 1950 at the age of 66.

The Give-Away

In 1884, the United States government formally outlawed all Indian religions. Part of the rationale behind the banning of Indian religions was the concern expressed by Indian agents, Christian missionaries, and the Christian philanthropists of the Lake Mohonk Conference regarding the American Indian practice of giving away their material possessions. Many non-Indians were scandalized by the Indian practice of the give-away. For Indians to become civilized, they argued, Indians needed to understand the importance of private property.  

In the 1880s, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Henry Teller, reported on the need to eliminate Indian feasts, dances, and ceremonies:

“they must be compelled to desist from the savage and barbarous practices that are calculated to continue them in savagery.”

Private property, Teller felt, is an important part of civilization. Steps needed to be taken to prevent private property from being given away at feasts and funerals. Not only did Indians need to learn to acquire private property, but they also needed to learn to pass it on to their children, not to tribal members.

The American obsession with private property and the accumulation of wealth was, and often still is, seen as having a mystical power to transform Indians. Since Indian cultures were not based on the principles of private property and greed, these cultures had to be destroyed.

While Indian religions, including the practice of giving away goods, remained illegal for half a century, the practice of the give-away continued and is still an important part of Indian life today.

Today’s Indians do give-aways for many different reasons. I recently attended a give-away related to a naming ceremony. In many traditional cultures, an individual may acquire a number of different names during the course of their life. In Native American cultures names are given to reflect deeds and accomplishments as well as spiritual characteristics. Often a spiritual name may help inspire the person to live up to the characteristics of the name.

The naming ceremony involves three basic activities. First, a respected elder or ceremonial leader will bestow the new name. This is often done in conjunction with a sweat lodge ceremony or a medicine circle ceremony. The new name may describe spiritual characteristics which the elder sees in the person being named. The named individual then will do a give-away and a feed. The give-away symbolizes the acceptance of the name. The individual accepting the name does not speak publicly at the give-away. Instead, someone is selected to speak for that individual. People are called forward to receive a gift from the person accepting the name. The receivers take the gift and shake hands with the giver. In doing this, they serve witness to the fact that the individual has formally accepted the name.

The feed is not a potluck. The person accepting the name must provide food to all those who received the gifts. The sharing of food is an important part of Native American spirituality.

There are many other occasions for give-aways. When a young person graduates from high school or college, or comes home safe after serving in the military, the family will often host a give-away. It is not uncommon for public events, such as powwows, to include give-aways. In Native cultures, the graduates and their families give gifts rather than receive them. The give-away functions as a public recognition of the individual’s new status and/or their thanks for the blessings they have received.

The Meriam Report

The policies of the United States regarding American Indians have generally been based on two interlocked approaches: ideological and theological. During the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, Indian affairs were guided by an ideology based on the concept of private property and a theology based on Christianity. Thus the formation of  Indian policies required no actual understanding of American Indians.  

Multimillionaire steel baron Andrew Carnegie cheerfully pronounced that “Individualism, Private Property, the Law of Accumulation of Wealth, and the Law of Competition” were the very height of human achievement. Politicians and Indian reformers simply sought to apply these to the Indian tribes with no real understanding of tribal cultures. Privatizing Indian land through the Allotment Act of 1887 was done through adherence to this ideology. It was felt that this would force Indians into the modern world and enable them and their children to have a future. The more practical realized that this would simply separate the Indians from their land and allow large corporate interests to prosper.

By the 1920s it was obvious to the most casual observer that there were major economic, social, and health problems on the reservations. America’s prosperity was not reaching Indian people. The poverty on the reservations was undeniable to any who had even a casual relationship with them.

In 1923 an elite panel known as the Committee of 100 was convened to advise on Indian policy. The Committee supported the goal of assimilation, but called for a greater sensitivity to Indian customs and the protection of tribal land. The following year, the Committee of 100 recommended that Indian education be improved with better school facilities, better trained personnel, an increase in the number of students in public schools, and scholarships for high school and college.

In 1926 Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work authorized an economic and social study of Indian conditions. Lewis Meriam led the study for the Institute for Government Research, a privately endowed foundation (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation). To conduct the research, Meriam put together a team of specialists from various disciplines, including some Native Americans. Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago), a graduate of Yale University, served as the Indian adviser.

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Henry Roe Cloud is shown above.

The research team conducted field work in 23 states, selected because they had more than 1,000 Native American inhabitants. They visited 95 reservations, agencies, hospitals, and schools.

In 1928, Meriam’s study entitled The Problem of Indian Administration (more commonly called the Meriam Report) was published. This was the most comprehensive study of Indian reservations ever done. The report strongly repudiated the philosophy of Indian policy which had prevailed since 1871.

While there were, and still are, many people who feel that poverty is a condition which Indian people have brought upon themselves, and that government policies can neither ameliorate nor create poverty, the report states:

“Several past policies adopted by the government in dealing with the Indians have been of a type which, if long continued, would tend to pauperize any race.”

Beginning in 1871, Indian policy in the United States had been guided by the ideology of private property, that only through private property could Indians (and all other people) prosper and that economic development should be based on small, privately owned family farms. According to the report:

“It almost seems as if the government assumed that some magic in individual ownership of property would in itself prove an educational civilizing factor, but unfortunately this policy has for the most part operated in the opposite direction.”

The report also states:

“In justice to the Indians it should be said that many of them are living on lands from which a trained and experienced white man could scarcely wrest a reasonable living. In some instances the land originally set apart for the Indians was of little value for agricultural operations other than grazing.”

The Meriam Report recognized the economic potential of Indian arts and crafts. The report recommended that the Indian Office coordinate the marketing of Indian arts and crafts so that genuineness, quality, and fair prices could be maintained. Indian arts and crafts were seen as a way of improving the social and economic conditions on the reservations.

The report also recommended that tribes be incorporated and that the tribal councils be given some decision-making powers.

The goals of Indian education during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were to convert Indian children to Christianity; to give them Christian names, particularly surnames, so that the inheritance of property could be easily traced; to provide them with the concept of greed; and to train them as laborers and household workers. Education was often carried out through boarding schools in which Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes and the influences of their cultures. With the Meriam Report the non-Indian public is made aware of kidnapping, child labor, emotional and physical abuse, and lack of health care in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. While the report draws attention to abuses, the assimilationist po¬licies of Indian education continues for another 40 years.

The report is particu¬larly critical of the boarding schools:

“The survey staff finds itself obligated to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”

While Indian education has often assumed that Indians are to be trained for manual labor, the report states:

“The Indian Service should encourage promising Indian youths to continue their education beyond the boarding schools and to fit themselves for professional, scientific, and technical callings. Not only should the educational facilities of the boarding schools provide definitely for fitting them for college entrance, but the Service should aid them in meeting the costs.”

With regard to religion, the report urges the continuation of cooperation with Christian missionaries, but cautions:

“The missionaries need to have a better understanding of the Indian point of view of the Indian’s religion and ethics, in order to start from what is good in them as a foundation. Too frequently, they have made the mistake of attempting to destroy the existing structure and to substitute something else without apparently realizing that much in the old has its place in the new.”

With regard to Indian health, the report simply stated:

“The health of the Indians compared with that of the general population is bad.”

According to the report, the general death rate and the infant mortality rate were high. Tuberculosis and trachoma (a disease that produces blindness) were very prevalent. With regard to the health care services provided to Indians by the government, the report states:

“The hospitals, sanatoria, and sanatorium schools maintained by the Service, despite a few exceptions, must generally be characterized as lacking in personnel, equipment, management, and design”

According to the report, the government-run health care institutions do not provide adequate care for their patients.

Overall, the Meriam Report set the stage for a new era in Indian policy, an era in which policy could be based on actual data rather than ideological or theological fantasies. Some of the Report’s recommendations were incorporated into the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

The Hoover Commission

Following World War II, the United States was facing an enormous debt created by the war and by the recovery from the Great Depression. As Congress met and pondered in its great wisdom how to reduce the debt and reduce government services, many politicians began to look at the poorest people in the United States: the American Indians. For many, paying down the debt and rebuilding the countries destroyed by the recent war could be done by reducing America’s obligations to the Indians. If the United States could just transfer wealth from the poor (the Indians) to the wealthy (corporations), the United States could build its economy and reduce the debt. If the United States didn’t have to live up to treaty obligations, the country would have money to invest in Europe and Japan.  

To figure out the best way to reduce government services, Congress in 1947 created a special commission headed by former President Herbert Hoover. The economic policies of the Hoover Presidency had not been particularly successful, but by this time most politicians had forgotten the role of his policies in creating the Great Depression. With regard to American Indians, Hoover’s presidency was repressive and disastrous, intending to destroy Indian cultures while ignoring treaties, the constitution, and a number of Supreme Court rulings.

The legislation creating the Hoover Commission had been drafted by conservative Republicans who had envisioned that the final report would be submitted to a newly elected Republican President. Eight of the twelve members of the Commission were selected by two Republicans. Most of the members of the Commission felt that many government services should be turned over to private enterprise.

In the 1940s, pressure to get the United States out of the Indian business by getting rid of treaties, tribes, reservations, and Indian cultures came from many fronts. In 1945, the Reader’s Digest had published an article by Missouri politician O. K. Armstrong  entitled “Set the American Indians Free” which characterized reservations as concentration camps and criticized the trust relationship regarding land use as a way of fostering perpetual guardianship. The article called for Indians to be freed from property right restrictions and racial segregation. This would allow their property to be more easily transferred to wealthy non-Indians. The Secretary of the Interior asked to be allowed to write a rebuttal to the article, but Reader’s Digest refused.

Christian missionary groups rallied behind the article and distributed 3,500 copies of it. Armstrong was asked to speak to the Indian Committee of the Home Missions Council of North America. Armstrong, like many other non-Indians, felt that Indians should be fully assimilated into American culture like other immigrants to the United States.

In 1948, O. K. Armstrong wrote another article for Reader’s Digest, “Let’s Give the Indians Back to the Country,” in which he emphasized the incompatibility of Indian tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty within the United States.

In 1949, the Hoover Commission issued its report. The Commission recommended that American Indians be economically, culturally, and politically integrated into American society. According to the Commission the assimilation of Indians into American society must once again become the cornerstone of federal policy. The Commission either ignored or was unaware of the fact that the policy of assimilation had been documented as a massive failure that resulted in Indian poverty.

The Commission recommended that the federal government transfer responsibility for Indian services to the states and that the government enforce a policy of assimilation. Once again, the Commission seemed unaware that the states, according to the Supreme Court, were the worst enemies of the tribes and that the constitution considered the tribes as sovereign nations.

According to the Hoover Commission:

“The basis for historic Indian culture has been swept away. Traditional tribal organization was smashed a generation ago. … Assimilation must be the dominant goal of public policy.”

This report laid the foundation for a new Dark Ages for American Indian tribes. Indians were not consulted about the changes in Indian policies. It was simply assumed that they were eager to abandon their tribal cultures and to enter into the American mainstream.


One hundred years ago, the primary thrust of American policies with regard to American Indians was assimilation. The goal at this time was to assimilate Indians into the mainstream of American society, to break up the tribes and their reservations, and to continue the process of transferring Indian wealth, in the form of land, from Indians to non-Indians. What follows is a verbal snapshot of that year.

The Supreme Court:

In United States versus Sandoval, the Supreme Court ruled that New Mexico’s Indian Pueblos were under federal jurisdiction. Prior to this ruling, the New Mexico Territorial Government had treated the Pueblos as municipalities. This ruling created concern among non-Indians who claimed ownership of Pueblo lands. According to the court:

“The people of the pueblos, although sedentary rather than nomadic in their inclinations, and disposed to peace and industry, are nevertheless Indians in race, customs, and domestic government. Always … adhering to primitive modes of life, largely influenced by superstition and fetishism [sic], and chiefly governed according to the crude customs inherited from their ancestors, they are essentially a simple, uninformed and inferior people”

The Indian Office:

Since the passage of the Dawes Act in 1887, the United States government had transferred land from Indian to non-Indian ownership. Under the Dawes Act, Indians were given allotments which they were unable to sell. American greed, however, soon led to pressure on the government to allow Indians to sell their land. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior instituted a new policy of greater liberalism in which all able-bodied adult Indians were to be given complete control of their property if they have less than one-half Indian blood. Ignoring the reports on the effectiveness of previous competency commissions, the competency commissions were reinstated to determine which Indians were capable of managing their own affairs.

While the Supreme Court in a ruling known as the Winters Doctrine had given Indian tribes superior water rights, the Indian Office sought to minimize this ruling by sending out a memorandum which stated:

“there appears to be no danger of immediate loss of water rights.”

The Indian Office appeared to have little concern for protecting or expanding Indian water rights and seemed more concerned about the impact of Indian water rights on non-Indian water users.  

A regional office of the Indian Office complained to the Washington office about the high cost of auctioning off timber leases. The regional office asked for and received permission to take 10 percent of the deposit money from the lease and sale of timber rights. Soon this spread nation-wide and 10 percent of every Individual Indian Money Account deposit was taken for handling the accounts.

The Indian Office sent out a directive to all Indian Agencies which held Indian fairs urging that horse racing be banned because of the gambling associated with it.  

The National Indian Memorial:

The National Indian Memorial, authorized by Congress and promoted by Rodman Wanamaker, was dedicated. Many Indian chiefs were brought to New York to participate in the dedication ceremonies. President William Howard Taft presided over the ground-breaking ceremony. Taft told the audience that the Memorial

“tells the story of the march of empire and the progress of Christian civilization to the uttermost limits.”

The Memorial, at the entrance to New York harbor, was to be a 165 foot high statue of an Indian welcoming the European newcomers to America. If the structure had actually been built as planned, it would have been 15 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty.

Wanamaker traveled to all of the reservations in the country bearing an endorsement of the project and a declaration of allegiance to the United States. These were presented to the Indian leaders for their signatures. In return for signing the declaration, each tribe was presented with an American flag. Many of those signing the declaration were not considered citizens by the United States, nor were they allowed to vote.

Indian Head Nickel:

The United States issued the Indian Head nickel which used an Indian head portrait which was a composite of John Big Tree (Onondaga), Iron Tail ((Sioux), and Two Moons (Cheyenne).

Movies, Music, Books, Tourism:

Movie director Thomas Ince traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and arranged with the Indian agent to allow 30 Sioux to go to Los Angeles. At this time, Indians were not free to travel off the reservation without the permission of their Indian agent. In Los Angeles, the Indians set up an encampment on the studio’s Santa Monica property. For six months, they appeared in movies and toured the city.

Buffalo Bill Cody produced The Indian Wars, a movie about the massacre of Lakota ghost dancers at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The movie was filmed on location and used many Lakota actors. Cody chose the reservation as the location for the movie because it was home to significant numbers of professional Indian actors with Wild West show experience. He hoped that this Wild West show experience would translate easily to film.

To portray the American military, Cody arranged for the cooperation of the U.S. Army and General Nelson Miles. Miles insisted that the film show the army story of the battle. Unlike some of the Lakota actors, none of the soldiers had actually taken part in the battle. There was some concern that some of the young Lakota men, in playing the role of 19th century warriors, might strive for realism by using real bullets instead of blanks.

Lakota educator Chauncey Yellow Robe, speaking to the Society of American Indians in 1914, said of the film:

“The whole production of the field was misrepresented and yet approved by the government. This is a disgrace and injustice to the Indian race.”

While Cody had hoped for a blockbuster hit, the film flopped badly. Cody, obsessed with a precision reenactment, did not pay enough attention to story lines and dramatic narrative structures.

A series of Chatacqua camps around the country provided some “educational” musical offerings about Indians. These included works composed by Thurlow Lieurance and Charles Wakefield Cadman whose works were based on Indian music. Performers included Lucy Nicola (Penobscot; she was also called “princess” Watawaso) and Tsianina Blackstone (Cherokee-Creek). In addition to composing music, Cadman gave lectures about Indian music which were illustrated with vocal and piano numbers as well as traditional Indian drums and flute. One of Cadman’s best known songs was “The Land of Sky Blue Water.” The well-meaning non-Indian musicians, in translating Indian music for non-Indian audiences, managed to strip the soul from the music and to replace it with a generic non-Indian soul which reinforced common stereotypes about Indians.

Yankton Sioux writer Zitkala-Sa collaborated on an Indian opera, “Sun Dance.” She provided the composer with some of the detailed rituals of the Sun Dance and played the music of tribal songs on her violin.

The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian was published in which Sam Blowsnake (also known as Crashing Thunder) told about his life and his conversion to the Native American Church (the “peyote” religion). The book was originally transcribed in a syllabary adapted for use with the Winnebago language and then translated into English by Oliver La Mere.

In South Dakota, Sioux historian Bad Heart Bull (also known as Amos Bad Heart Buffalo and Amos Bad Heart Bull) died at the age of 74. In 1890 he had begun a project of recording tribal history based on what the elders had taught him. The history was done in a pictorial (Winter Count) format and consisted of more than 400 pictures. Among the pictures was a map of the Black Hills which emphasizes its sacred sites.  

The Great Northern Railway took a dozen Blackfoot on an extended tour of New York and other cities to promote Glacier National Park. They set up tipis on the roof of the McAlpin Hotel in New York and marched in the Easter Parade. They met with movie star Tom Mix in Chicago. The Blackfeet carried the Glacier Park flag and handed out Glacier Park medallions.


The American Athletic Union stripped Sauk and Fox athlete Jim Thorpe of the medals he won in the 1912 Olympic Games and removed his records from the record books. Thorpe had been paid to play baseball and was thus not considered an amateur athlete. The bylaws for the Olympiad stated that objections to a contestant’s qualifications must be filed within 30 days after the awarding of the prizes. The objection to Thorpe’s qualifications were filed 7 months after the games.

In Maine, Penobscot professional baseball player Louis Sockalexis died of chronic heart disease at the age of 42.

Society of American Indians:

In Colorado, the Society of American Indians (SAI) met in Denver under the auspices of the University of Denver. Membership in the organization was now at 200 active members with most coming from Oklahoma, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and New York. In the meeting, the SAI voted to support a Congressional bill to define Indian status; to support a Congressional bill asking that Indian claims go directly to the federal court of claims; and a reorganization of Indian schools.

Chauncey Yellow Robe (Lakota) spoke out against three decades of Wild West Shows. He called these shows degrading, demoralizing, and degenerating. He said:

“All these Wild West Shows are exhibiting the Indian worse than he ever was and deprive him of his high manhood and individuality.”

The SAI began to publish the Quarterly Journal. Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Yavapai-Apache) was designated to serve as contributing editor.

The Society of American Indians called for the opening of the Court of Claims to Indian tribes. The Society called for Congress to enact such legislation that would give the tribes a five-year opportunity to submit their claims against the Unites States. At this time, Indian tribes could only sue the United States with Congressional approval. Acting with their usual speed regarding Indian affairs, Congress would finally enact this type of legislation 35 years later.

Reservation Poverty

Estimating the economic well-being of American Indians is a complex task. In general, American Indians tend to have higher poverty rates, higher unemployment rates, and lower educational achievements that other Americans. However, the picture is complicated by the fact that some Indians live on reservations and some don’t. The poverty rates on reservations are significantly higher than in the urban areas.

There are currently about 310 reservations in the United States. These reservations are lands which the Indians reserve for themselves: they were “gifts” from the United States government to the Indians. All Indian reservations, however, are not equal: some are very large, covering thousands of square miles while others are small, containing only a few acres; some have populations numbering in the many thousands, while other have only a few hundred (sometimes fewer) residents. Some reservations are pockets of extreme poverty, the kind of poverty geographers describe in the lesser developed countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Listed below are the ten largest Indian reservations in the United States along with estimates of the percentage of families living in poverty and the percentage in extreme poverty (defined as less than half of the poverty threshold). Because economic well-being is associated with educational attainment, also shown is the percentage of adults who have at least a high school education. In the United States as a whole, 80% of all adults have at least a high school education; among all Indians this is 76%. The large reservations listed below have education levels far below this.  


The Navajo Nation covers more than 62,400 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. It is not only the largest Indian nation in the United States with regard to size, but is also the largest with regard to population: about 181,000 Navajo live on the reservation.

Nearly half of the families on the reservation (47%) live in poverty with 15% in extreme poverty. While the official unemployment rate is about 11%, more than half of all adults on the reservation (56%) are actually out of the labor force. While education is often seen as the key to reducing poverty, only 25% of the Navajo adults have the equivalent of a high school education.

Uintah and Ouray:

The Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah is the home to the Northern Ute. The reservation covers 17,678 square miles and has a population of about 19,000.  

More than half of the families on the reservation (54%) live in poverty with 4% in extreme poverty. While the official unemployment rate is about 5.4%, 40% of all adults on the reservation are out of the labor force. With regard to education, 38% have at least a high school education.

Tohono O’odham:

The Tohono O’odham Nation covers 11,535 square miles in southern Arizona and has a reservation population of about 11,000.

The poverty rate is about 44% with 21% of all households living in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is 9.9% with 59% of all adults out of the labor force. With regard to education, 40% have at least a high school education.

Cheyenne River:

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota covers 11,447 square miles and has a population of about 8,500.

Two out of five of the reservation households (42%) live in poverty and 15% are in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is about 8.6% with 43% of the reservation adults out of the labor force. About one third of the reservation adults (33%) have at least a high school education.

Standing Rock:

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation covers 9,486 square miles in South Dakota and North Dakota. The reservation has a population of about 8,300.  

Of the families living on the reservation, 41% live in poverty with 17% living in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is 6.7% with about half of all adults (49%) out of the labor force. With regard to education, 37% have at least a high school education.


In Montana, the Crow Nation covers 9,341 square miles with a population of about 7,000.  

About one-third of the families on the reservation (32%) live in poverty with 10% living in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is 10.5% with 39% of all adults out of the labor force. With regard to education, 31% have at least a high school education.

Wind River:

Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, home to the Northern Shoshone and the Arapaho, covers 9,148 square miles. The reservation has a population of nearly 24,000.  

The poverty rate on the Wind River Reservation is low compared to many other reservations: 23% live in poverty with 13% in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is 7.5% with 35% of all adults out of the labor force. More than a third of the adults (35%) have at least a high school education.  

Pine Ridge:

The Oglala Sioux of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation have 8,994 square miles and a population of about 15,500.

More than half of the families on the reservation (53%) live in poverty with 21% living in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is about 16.9% with 49% of all adults out of the labor force. Slightly more than one-fourth of all adults (27%) have at least a high school education.

Fort Peck:

The Fort Peck Reservation in Montana is the home to the Sioux and Assiniboine. The reservation covers 8,553 square miles with a population of about 10,500.

About 39% of the Fort Peck residents live in poverty with 10% living in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is about 10.9% with 38% of all adults out of the labor force. One-third of the reservation residents (33%) have at least a high school education.

San Carlos:

The San Carlos Apaches in Arizona have a reservation of 7,582 square miles with a population of about 9,400.

More than half of the families on the reservation (53%) live in poverty, with 25% living in extreme poverty. The official unemployment rate is 16.4% with 54% of all adults out of the labor force. About one-third of the adults (32%) have completed at least a high school education.

Ancient America: The Southern Plains Villagers

Southern Plains Villagers is a culture that occupied the Southern Plains from 800 CE to 1500 CE. These Indian people had agricultural economy which they supplemented by hunting and gathering wild plants. With regard to hunting, the bison was an important animal and was also important in the religious life of the people. Overall, the Southern Plains Villagers had a rich and varied subsistence base.  

The Southern Plains Village sites were relatively small, ranging from a half an acre to as large as four acres. They were usually located on major streams or tributaries. These were sites where the fertile sand-loam soils were well-suited to their corn-based agriculture.

Several small communities would often be clustered fairly close together which suggests a rural community composed of several family groups. In some instances, a larger site would serve as the central community for a number of smaller sites which would be located up and down the river valley.

Southern Plains Village houses tended to be square or rectangular made with central support posts. Upright logs placed in postholes were used to form the walls. The walls of the houses were plastered. The houses were roofed with grass thatch. Houses averaged 23 feet long by 14 feet wide.

The Southern Plains Villagers made flaked stone tools from both locally available materials and from materials which had been traded through some distance. They are using arrowheads which archaeologists classify as Fresno, Washita, Ellis, and Edgewood types.

The Plains villagers used a variety of ground stone tools, including grinding stones. They also used different types of abrading stones. The sandstone abraders which they used were similar to graded sandpaper. They would be used in making bone tools. Coarse abraders would be used for the initial or rough out work. Then the toolmaker would switch to the medium abraders for intermediate steps.  Finally they would use the fine grade for finishing work or re-sharpening.

Using stone tools for grinding corn and plant seeds meant that there was a large amount of grit in the food. This resulted in tooth wear.

The Southern Plains Village people also made pottery. Some of the pottery was made using a limestone temper while some was made using a shell temper. In general, the pots were made for everyday use and tend to have little or no decoration. In addition to pots and bowls, they also made pipes and figurines from clay. The clay figurines were used in fertility ceremonies and the clay pipes were used in tobacco smoking ceremonies.

Custer Pottery

Shown above is an example of Custer Phase Pottery (800 to 1250 CE) from Oklahoma.

Washita Pottery

Shown above is an example of Washita River Pottery (1250 to 1450 CE) from Oklahoma. Both of the photos above are from the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey files.…

The Plains Village people used cache pits for storage. These were dug into the ground to a depth of about 4 feet and they were slightly more than 3 feet in diameter.

During the Turkey Creek Phase (1250 to 1450) in Oklahoma, there were trading networks which connected the Southern Plains Villages to the Pueblo villages in the west and the Caddoan groups to the east and northeast.

About 1500 CE, the Southern Villagers appear to have abandoned their heartland and become more dispersed. In some areas of the Southern Plains, the number of sites decreases and there is a substantial increase in the size of the remaining villages. It is possible that climatic conditions forced the people to move eastward where water supplies were more reliable. Some of the Southern Villagers were the ancestors of the historic Wichita. Intrusive groups, such as the Kiowa, began to appear at this time.  

Navajo Rugs

In the American Southwest today one of the most popular art forms sought by museums, collectors, and tourists is the Navajo rug. While the Navajo had been weaving for centuries and their works were traded over a wide area, the development of the Navajo rug really started in 1881 with the arrival of the railroad. The railroad connected the Navajo with the globalized market for native crafts. This market, however, was controlled by non-Indian traders who held federal licenses. The idea of allowing Indians to participate in a free market ran counter to the “civilization” programs run by the federal government in which it was assumed that Indian people were somehow a “dependent” people who must be guided, managed, and controlled by the more “civilized” non-Indians.


The incorporation of the Navajo into a global market meant that the weavers were increasingly incorporated into the cash economy of this market. The period from 1875 to 1890 is generally considered a transition period for the Navajo weavers. During this time they began to use commercial American-made yarns known collectively as Germantown. These yarns were dyed with aniline (a dye derived from coal tar) and provided primarily in 4-ply.

It was also during this transition period that a new element was added to Navajo weaving: the pictorial weaving. Items such as cows, trains, American flags, and other items began to appear in the weavings.

By 1887 the Indian superintendent for the Navajo estimated that two-thirds of their weavings-primarily blankets-were now being sold. Two years later, the Indian superintendent reports that while there were just nine federally licensed traders on the reservation, there were about 30 trading posts located just off the reservation. He noted that the

“proximity of trading posts has radically changed their native costumes and modified many of the earlier barbaric traits, and also affords them good markets for their wool, peltry, woven fabrics, and other products.”

Hubbell 1880s

The Hubbell Trading Post is shown above.

By 1890, the Navajo were producing about $25,000 worth of trade goods each year. Their involvement with this larger market had an impact on native crafts. Since pottery and basketry did not have the same commercial appeal as other crafts, the people were producing less.

The Rug Period of Navajo Weaving is usually dated from 1890 to 1920. At this time, the weavers began making thicker weavings which could be used as rugs for sales outside of the reservation. Regional styles began to develop which were associated with traders or trading posts. The traders, sensitive to the tastes of non-Indians in distant markets, actively collaborated with the weavers to produce designs which would sell. One of the design features which was introduced in 1890 was the use of borders.

One of the major supporters of the Navajo rugs was the Harvey Company which featured them in their eating houses and newsstands along the route of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. In 1900, the Harvey Company established the Indian Building in Albuquerque which featured Navajo weavers plying their craft so that the tourists could watch. Fred Harvey also contracted with the trader Lorenzo Hubbell to take his entire output of good quality Navajo weavings. Harvey insisted that the business needed standardization with regard to size, quality, and price.

Since the traders, particularly the Harvey Company, frowned on the use of Germantown yarn, the rugs tended to be woven with coarse handspun wool which was either dyed with aniline or left in its natural color. In 1897, J.B. Moore, who had the trading post at Crystal, New Mexico, began sending wool east to be washed and carded. This thoroughly cleaned wool could be more easily spun and consequently the technical quality of the rugs woven by the weavers in his area improved.

In addition to providing his weavers with cleaned wool, Moore also had a friend who designed some new styles using some traditional Navajo figures combined with non-Navajo motifs such as swastikas and frets which were common in the oriental rugs of this period. The patterns were enclosed by borders and favored natural wool colors: black, gray, brown, tan, and white.

Trader Juan Lorenzo Hubbell in the Ganado area encouraged weavers to use traditional Navajo designs from earlier time periods. In his trading post he hung watercolor design samples to help inspire the weavers.

Hubbell Blankets

The inside of the Hubbell Trading Post is shown above. Note the designs on the walls.

Razzle Dazzle

Shown above is a small rug in the razzle-dazzle style woven by a young girl and sold at the Hubbell Trading Post.

Ganado Red

Shown above is an example of the Ganado Red style from my personal collection.

The Crystal tradition led to the distinctive style known as Two Gray Hills, named for the trading post on the east side of the Chuska Mountains south of Shiprock. At Two Gray Hills, the old Crystal style became elaborated and the technical excellence of spinning and weaving improved.

Two Grey Hills

Shown above is a small Two Gray Hills rug from my personal collection.

The borders introduced by the Crystal tradition spread throughout the reservation and by 1910 could be found on most rugs.

In 1898, Navajo weavers responded to the patriotic fever of the Spanish-American War by making American flag blankets.

In 1903, John Lorenzo Hubbell began to provide Navajo weavers with commercially processed wool at his trading post in Ganado, Arizona. Other traders soon followed suit.

In 1910, the United States government in its infinite wisdom introduced Rambouillet sheep to the reservation. These sheep had oily, short-staple, crimpy wool rather than the long-staple wavy wool of the Navajo sheep. It is difficult, some say impossible, for a Navajo weaver to clean this wool with the traditional hand washing. Rugs woven from this wool were coarse and the whites tended to have a dirty gray cast. This helped bring Navajo weaving to a new low and by 1920 the demand for Navajo rugs and the prices paid for them had declined significantly.

In 1931, a group of traders, concerned about the protection of the Navajo rug, met in Gallup, New Mexico and formed the United Indian Traders Association. They advocated that the following standards to be used for Navajo blankets and rugs:

“Material used shall be virgin wool or virgin angora wool, the same shall be hand-washed, hand-carded and hand-dyed, the warp shall be all wool and hand-spun, the wool shall be all wool and hand-spun and the blanket shall be hand-woven by an Indian.”

In 1932, a number of Navajo sheep ranchers attended the Denver stock show and as a result they acquired a prize-winning Dorset ram in an attempt to improve the quality of wool available for blankets.

Today, Navajo rugs continue to be popular and continue to battle against cheap, imported imitations which use Navajo designs or designs which pretend to be Navajo. There are well over a thousand weavers on the Navajo reservation who do museum quality work and tourists can obtain high quality rugs at most of the trading posts on the reservation. The Hubbell Trading Post, which played an important role in the development of twentieth century Navajo rugs, is currently operated by the National Park Service. Tourists visiting Hubbell can not only purchase high quality rugs, but can also watch the weavers in action. While it is not uncommon for tourists to grumble at what they perceive as the high prices for these rugs, keep in mind that most weavers make well under minimum wage for the hours they spend at the loom.

President Truman and the Indians

With the death of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, Vice-President Harry Truman became President. Truman called for the elimination of the Indian Office (now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs) within three years. According to Truman, the Indian Office-

“has segregated the Indian from the general citizenry, condemned him to an indefinite if not perpetual wardship, tied him to land in perpetuity, and forced a system of Bureau-controlled education and land use upon him.”

With this, the federal government begins to turn its back on the reforms initiated during the Roosevelt Presidency and to return to the ideas of the nineteenth century which called for the assimilation of Indians and the destruction of Indian cultures. The Truman Presidency for American Indians marks the beginning of a new dark ages nurtured in ignorance and inspired by greed and out-dated notions of racial superiority.

In 1952, President Harry Truman stopped in Montana where he was met by a delegation of Assiniboine dressed in traditional outfits. Chief First to Fly conducted a brief pipe ceremony and passed the pipe to the President, a non-smoker. The President took a few puffs and then handed it to Montana Senator Mike Mansfield who later reported:

“The President doesn’t smoke. What he did here was for the first time.”

Hoover Commission:

In 1949, the Hoover Commission recommended that American Indians be economically, culturally, and politically integrated into American society. The members of the Commission blasted the previous administration’s celebration of Indian cultures and insisted that the United States return to the nineteenth century policies of assimilation. While the Supreme Court had pointed out that the states tended to be the enemies of Indian tribes, the Commission recommended that functions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs be transferred to state governments. According to the Hoover Commission:

“The basis for historic Indian culture has been swept away. Traditional tribal organization was smashed a generation ago. … Assimilation must be the dominant goal of public policy.”

Administration of Indian Affairs:

In the bureaucracy of the American government, the administration of Indian affairs has been delegated to the Department of the Interior. Within this department, the Indian Office was headed by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, a political appointee.

Legislation reorganized the Indian Office in 1946. Forty reservation-based offices were eliminated and regional headquarters were established in five cities: Minneapolis, Billings, Portland, Phoenix, and Oklahoma City. On the one hand, this reorganization was justified as a movement to streamline management and to make it more cost-effective. On the other hand, it was a move away from meeting the needs of reservation Indians and a vehicle for accelerating the relocation of Indians from their tribal homelands into urban areas.

The Indian Office was renamed the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1947. At this time, the BIA began an experimental program to relocate single Navajo men to Denver, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake.

In 1948, the Secretary of the Interior considered moving 1,000 Navajo families from their reservation in Arizona and New Mexico to the Colorado River as a means of alleviating overpopulation on the reservation.

In 1951, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) withheld $140,000 of credit funds from the Oglala Sioux until the tribe withdrew its criticisms of the BIA’s extension service program.

In 1951 the BIA opened four urban field relocation offices: Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. Of these, only the office in Chicago had not been involved with the earlier Hopi and Navajo relocation program.

In 1952, the BIA abandoned the Indian reorganization program started in 1934 under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) and set out to take the government out of the Indian business. The BIA intended to destroy bilateral United States-Indian treaties and to end the government’s commitment to its trusteeship obligations. With no legislative authority, Commissioner Dillon Meyer made an offer to all Indian tribes to end their federal relationships. In the annual report of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Meyer wrote:

“If any Indian tribe is convinced that the Bureau of Indians Affairs is a handicap to its advancement, I am willing to recommend to the Secretary of Interior that we cooperate in securing legislative authority to terminate the Department’s trusteeship responsibility to that tribe.”

The BIA closed all federal Indian schools in Idaho, Michigan, and Wisconsin in 1952. In the boarding schools, there was a return to the assimilation philosophy that had guided Indian education at the beginning of the century. The BIA also discontinued all loans to students under the Indian Reorganization Act.

In 1952, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dillon Meyer visited the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana and met with the Tribal Executive Board. In his talk to the Sioux and Assiniboine on the reservation, he stresses the theme of “emancipation” and told them:

“We’re not interested in hanging onto the responsibility of trusteeship any longer than the Indian folks feel that we should carry it.”


In 1946, D.C., the Standing Committees on Indian Affairs in the Senate and the House were abolished. In other words, there would no longer be regular committees to consider Indian issues, an indication that Congress no longer considered Indians to be a major concern. Indian matters were relegated to sub-committees. The following year, some Senators began to call for the abolition of the BIA, claiming that it had ceased to be of use.

In 1948, Congress passed legislation which allowed Indians to use alcohol only for mechanical, scientific, or medicinal purposes.

In 1949, Utah congresswoman Reva Beck Basone introduced a bill calling for the assimilation of Indians into the American way of life. She noted:

“It is my observation that the Indian wants more than anything else to live like the white man.”

House Joint Resolution 698 in 1950 called for an examination into the conduct of Indian affairs and a list of tribes which were sufficiently prepared for termination. Tribes subject to termination were supposed to have attained a significant degree of acculturation, to be economically self-supporting, and to be willing to accept the termination of government services. In response to the resolution, the BIA developed an extensive questionnaire for BIA officials to use in evaluating each tribe. The resulting report reflected the judgment of reservation superintendents and BIA staff.

In 1952, a bill supported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was introduced to Congress which would authorize BIA law enforcement officers to carry arms, to make arrests, and to engage in searches and seizures for alleged violations of BIA regulations, both on and off the reservation. From the viewpoint of the BIA and those who supported the bill, Indians should not have any Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure rights.

At the same time, the BIA also petitioned Congress for blanket authority to terminate trusteeship of land, to veto any tribal expenditures, and to remove tax-exempt status from Indian Country. The BIA also asked that the BIA be exempt from any review or correction in the courts. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs asked Congress to put the BIA above the law.


In 1949, the hereditary chiefs and priests of four Hopi villages – Hotevilla, Shungopovi, Mishongnovi, and Shipalovi – sent a letter to President Harry Truman asking the United States to stay out of their affairs and to respect their sovereignty. They pointed out to the President that Hopi land had been given to them by the Great Spirit, Massauw and that they were given the task of guarding this land by obeying their religious instructions.

Commissioners of Indian Affairs:

After having made clear that he intended to get rid of the Indian Office and return to the discredited program of assimilation that had led to massive poverty for Indians, President Truman appointed William A. Brophy as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Brophy had served as special attorney for the Pueblo Indians. As Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Brophy began to guide the Indian Office toward policies which emphasized a return to assimilation and abandoned the idea of cultural pluralism.

Brophy’s poor health meant that William Zimmerman, an assistant commissioner of Indian affairs, became acting Commissioner in 1946. In 1949, John Ralph Nichols, who had been an administrator in the University of Idaho system, was appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He served in this position only eleven months and spent most of his time visiting Indian reservations. He felt that Indians should be assimilated into American society, but stressed that for assimilation to be successful it had to be desired by the Indians.

In 1950, Dillon S. Meyer became Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Meyer, who had administered the Japanese concentration camps during World War II, had had almost no contact with cultures other than his own and was firmly committed to the myth of the American melting pot and the superiority of American culture. Like many Americans at this time, Meyer was convinced that communities which were culturally different from the American mainstream were un-American and weakened the fabric of American life. His distrust of and dislike for Indians has been described by some historians as “pathological.”

He felt that the development of tribal resources was best accomplished by turning this development over to private, non-Indian, companies.

He saw a return to the boarding school concept as a way of severing tribal ties. He ordered classes to stop stressing Native culture and to prepare Indian students for off-reservation employment. This included the reinstitution of the old efforts to curb the use of Native languages.

Under Meyer’s leadership, the Bureau of Indian Affairs used government money and employees to influence tribal elections in favor of candidates which he approved. When Indians who were critical of BIA policies were elected, the BIA simply impounded the bank accounts of the tribes and hindered tribal management.

Commissioner Dillon Meyer outlined his new Indian policy at a 1951 speech before the National Council of Churches. This group was in favor of assimilation and had opposed the idea of religious freedom for Indian religions. He announced that the private sector or state governments could better serve the Indian people and the time had come to weaken or dissolve the relationship between Indian tribes and the federal government. He asked that religious groups help Indians to assimilate into American society.


Commissioner Meyer, issued new rules in 1950 which required that all attorneys who contracted with tribes have his personal approval. In response to the proposed rules, the Association on American Indian Affairs editorialized:

“The proposed rules, by interfering with free choice of counsel, collide head-on with the due process guarantee of the Federal Constitution.”

Columbia University Law Professor Charles Black wrote of the importance of having a tribe choose their own attorney:

“If he is chosen by somebody else, dismissible by somebody else, accountable to somebody else, he cannot devote himself with a whole heart to the interests of his tribal client.”

While the new rules were eventually rejected by the Secretary of the Interior after hearing 44 witnesses speak against them, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs continued to obstruct tribal contracts for legal services.

In 1950, the Standing Rock Sioux attempted to hire their own attorney, to be paid out of tribal funds, to help in the negotiations regarding lands taken in the Pick-Sloan dam projects. The tribe wanted legal counsel which was totally independent from the politics of the Department of the Interior. However, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dillon Meyer rejected their choice of an attorney and allowed only a one-year contract. The attorney selected by the tribe, James Curry, was an outspoken critic of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was one of a number of Indian claims lawyers against whom Meyer had a personal vendetta. The tribe protested Meyer’s decision to the Department of Interior. The Department of the Interior did nothing as Meyer continued to publicly attack Curry.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs notified all tribes in 1951 that money for hiring private attorneys to represent tribal claims would no longer be available. The Commissioner explained that public money was being wasted on private attorneys when government attorneys could perform the same tasks.

In 1951, he denied the Pyramid Lake Paiute in Nevada the right to hire their own attorney in settling a claim for disputed land on their reservation. Paiute tribal chairman Avery Winnemucca and a three-member delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. to demand a hearing with the Secretary of the Interior. They failed to see the Secretary and to gain support for their cause.

In 1951, the Standing Rock Sioux sent a delegation to Washington to obtain a hearing about their choice in an attorney to represent their interests. For 26 days the delegation camped out in the office of the Secretary of the Interior, lobbied in Congress, and gave interviews to the news media to present their case. Finally, the Secretary of the Interior overruled the Commissioner of Indian Affairs’ decision about the tribe’s contract with the attorney of their choice. The Secretary of the Interior’s decision meant that for the first time tribes could select their own attorneys and could make contracts with them on their own terms. However, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dillon Meyer managed to circumvent the decision of the Secretary of the Interior by refusing to allow the tribe to spend more than $300 per year for the attorney’s services.

Indian Leadership:

Under the leadership of D’Arcy McNickle, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sponsored a series of community development workshops in 1951 for Indian leaders in Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma. The workshops were intended to help tribal leaders discover the internal resources available to deal with tribal problems. These workshops, however, had little real influence and failed to be translated into action.