New Deal for Indians; Three Tribes Moves to Incorporate
July 1, 1936
“I do believe that no one exceeds him in knowledge of Indian matters or his sympathy with the point of view of the Indians themselves.” Those are the words that Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, uses to describe the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the Collier appointment in 1933, he knew that Indian policy would change for the better because Collier had long been an energetic defender of Indian rights.
In his executive actions Collier has reversed policies that have existed for a half-century. He believes that the culture and ways of Native people should be preserved and cultivated, not attacked and abolished. Thus, he has reversed the land allotment system under which non-Indians have gained much Indian land. His hope is that Indian land will remain as Indian lands.
Amid great controversy and a flurry of church opposition, he has issued a directive, which states, “No interference with Indian religious life or ceremonial expression will hereafter be tolerated.” The old ways are deemed good ways. Collier has also insisted that New Deal work and relief programs be used to improve depressed conditions on the reservations. A special Indian Civilian Conservation Corps (ICCC) is in operation and is presently enrolling young men on North Dakota’s reservations. The ICCC will work to improve land management among Native peoples.
Collier considers his most significant achievement to be the recently passed Indian Reorganization Act which incorporates the principle of self-determination. If tribes so decide, they are now encouraged to establish their own constitutions and self-government.
In North Dakota only at Fort Berthold have the people voted to establish constitutional forms of government and to incorporate into the Three Affiliated Tribes. At Turtle Mountain and Fort Totten the people have decided to wait. On Standing Rock the decision not to reorganize is based on the fact that since 1914 the tribe had been operating under a constitutional form of government that was serving the people well.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.
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