Destination: Determination

Even with the promises and reforms that were achieved through the efforts of John Collier and the Indian Reorganization Act, the reality of situation for Indian self-government was limited at best. As each decision was made, it had to be approved by the secretary. This still did not hamper the Indian tribal activities that began in 1961 and expanded the local control of the Indians’ domestic affairs. Indians were finding it necessary to not only govern themselves, but also to control the decisions, or determinations, of how that would be accomplished. Collier had laid the groundwork for such a plan, but after he left office, no one seemed to take up the effort with the same fervor. The culture and heritage of the tribal system seems to have been neglected by its own people, creating a situation that makes it difficult for self-determination to occur. But since the 1961 movement began, the responsibility for the tribal situation has shifted. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s the Indian Civil Rights Act, the Indian Education Act, and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act have set examples for how to keep the movement moving.

During the many social reform actions of the 1960’s, the subject of Civil Rights was among the hottest of topics. There were three movements that especially developed during this time. One was the meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in 1961. They delivered a document to President Kennedy that pointed out the "good citizenship" of Indians and the importance of this group of people in American history. The second series of events began in 1964. The push for a "Greater Indian America" resulted in a National Indian Youth Council. Following the example of "sit-ins" being stage by blacks in protest of inequality, these Indians with a renewed feeling of national pride began a series of "fish-ins" to demonstrate their beliefs. The third of the important occurrences was an attempt by the Indians to hold on to their tribal justice system. Public Law 280 allowed states to have jurisdiction over the reservations. Of course, the Indians hated it because it interfered with their tribal government. States that were given this duty wanted more funds to take on the added responsibility, but could not obtain money from taxes because the federal government was allowing the Indians to be immune from them. The hearings that were subsequently held on these and similar matters led to the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968. Senator Sam Ervin considered the dilemma in his subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Senator John Carroll, the chair of the sessions. The bill was constantly put on through controversial proposals or packages until Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. At that point Ervin tacked it on to the Fair Housing Act to try to rush it through. It seemed that Ervin knew this action would get the Indian rights issue out of his subcommittee and kill the Housing bill at the same time. Congressman Ben Reifel, a Sioux Indian, picked up the trail at this point and had the bill be sent to the House’s Interior Committee. It was taken to the House Judiciary Committee, where it passed, becoming Public Law 90-284. It allowed for the religious freedom of tribes as well as helping to answer the question of jurisdiction over Indians. These were important steps toward the Indians’ self-government and self-determination.

The next issue that was addressed was education. In order to relieve some of the poverty in the Indian societies, the educational system that was teaching their children would need to be brought up to par with the regular public school system. Robert Kennedy had begun work towards this in 1967 by sponsoring a special subcommittee on the subject. After his assassination, Edward Kennedy took up the work and submitted a report called "Indian Education: A National Tragedy—A National Challenge," emphasizing the findings of their field hearings and studies. This report in 1969 recommended that there be a national policy on Indian education and other social issues, but also suggested that the Indians be in control of the system and given more funding. It also provided for Indian ideals and culture to be included in the education of Indians. The Indian Education Act took effect in 1972, and it was yet another step toward the Indian's identity and self-determination issue.

These ideas led to many of the provisions of John Collier's original bill being enacted. In 1975, Senator Henry Jackson passed some of his own Indian policy legislation along with the Indian Self-Determination Act and the Indian Education Assistance Act. The Self-Determination Act opened the door for Indians to take advantage of federal programs and services, to allow the tribal government to participate in programs that would make it possible for civil service employees to work for tribal organizations, and provided for waivers of federal contracting laws if they did not apply to tribal contracts. The second Act proposed a parent committee and also provided for the cost of educating Indian children who were not residents of a state, but were living at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding facility. The hearings for these ideas addressed the problem of Indian children not receiving equal education services.

With the attempts to create equality and efforts to include Indian culture in education, it would seem that the Indians would be able to retain their tribal identities and be on the road to self-government and self-determination. However, the path has not always been conducive to such an outcome. For the last 100 years of Indian policy in the United States, assimilation has crept into the actions of legislators. It has become apparent that to achieve the type of society required for self-determination, the Indians of the United States will have to unite within tribal affiliations for a sense of identity to continue the society. Along with the civil rights reform and education acts of the 1960’s and 1970’s, questions of economics and land holdings add to the list of concerns for American Indians in their quest for an identity as a nation.

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