Three Historical Questions

1. How did the U.S. use land ownership and education to assimilate the Indians? Why were those methods chosen? Discuss the effect on the children.

One of the main tasks the American Government had during the first stages of gaining independence was the creation of the united nation. The process was difficult as it was necessary to struggle with post-colonial mentality and integrate the original population of America into a new type of society that was formed after the States gained their independence. The authorities chose to assimilate the Indians making them equal in rights with the white American population. The key method was to deprive the Indians of their special customs and traditions and impose the behavior pertained to the Americans of European origin. The Government focused on two major issues – land ownership and education. They were chosen as they were supposed to be the most effective methods that could force the Indians to abandon their traditional ways of life.

The sphere of education had the most significant impact on the lives of Indians. At first, the Government established so-called boarding schools where Indian children were taught to accept new ways of thinking that were common among the white Americans. Sometimes such schools resulted in deep psychological traumas for children as they were forced to break all contacts with their mother tribes and traditions. The attitude towards such children was also often negative and influenced the methods of teaching greatly. “Although there had always been a small number of people who were convinced that the Indians could be civilized, the public generally believed that he was incapable of progress” (Szasz, 1999, p.9).

Another method to assimilate the Indians was the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. Originally the land was owned not by individuals but by the whole tribe. However, the document offered individual Indians to accept their own private lands and abandon the tribe. In case they agreed, the government awarded them with full U.S. citizenship. Such measures tempted many Indians to start a new life as Americans. As a result, many small tribes almost completely disappeared and bigger ones suffered many social and economic problems.

2. Consider the roles Indians played in World War I and World War II. How did Indians and non-Indians view that participation?

When the World War I started, the American Indians did not have proper rights of citizenship. It depended not on their place of birth, but on the fact whether they owned an allotment of land or not. Only those in possession of land were regarded to as the U.S. citizens and as a result could be drafted to serve in the American Army. However, large numbers of Indians enlisted voluntarily as they were eager to prove the military fame of their tribes. It was an essential part of their traditional way of life. Some tribes, for example, Onondaga and Oneida, even declared war to Germany acting as other independent nations like France, Great Britain, etc. The Indians played an active role both on the home front and at the actual military battlefield. Nevertheless, they were not rewarded equally with the white Americans after the end of the war. They occurred in a problematic condition. It is necessary to pay special attention to such issues as “the personal economic losses they suffered as a result of being away from home, confusion over their citizenship status, and their desire to gain the full rights of citizenship” (Krouse & Dixon, 2007).

The great numbers of volunteers among the Native Americans remained at the time of World War II. The war significantly changed the lives of the Indians. Their contacts with the society outside the reservations became more frequent and regular. Indians who served in the army had an opportunity to visit foreign countries and those who stayed at home received high-paid jobs outside reservations, so very few returned to their traditional ways of life after the war ended.

3. In what ways did the Indian Reorganization Act change the Federal approach to Indian policy?

The land issues were crucial for the Indians as according to the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, they lost many rights as tribes. The IRA altered the main principles of how the land was distributed and managed. It canceled the privatization of land by the individual Indians and allowed them to govern the land together as a tribe. The IRA also put an end to the selling of land to the individuals who did not belonged to the tribe. All such changes resulted in returning of vast areas of land to the Indian tribes and allowed them to establish and strengthen the inner economic systems of their communities.

Tribes could have their own constitutions, but it was not obligatory. However, if such constitution was accepted, it should contain the points that had to defend the rights of the individual Indians, for example, hiring a legal consultant, etc.

The significance of such document is really great. In addition to the immediate changes, it influenced the life of the Indian tribes on the territory of the USA and the later development of the relations between tribes and the federal government. “Over half the Indian governments in the United States today are organized under its provisions or those of separate statutes that parallel the IRA in major ways” (Rusco, 2000, p.9)

In summation, the document introduced crucial changes to the federal policy towards the Indian affairs. It enabled Indians to obtain more rights and use them in accordance with their traditional systems. The most important aspect of the document was also the fact that it did not require the Indians to refuse any of their religions or customs to be American citizens. It was quite successful in term of the land management but needed some improvements in the sphere of local tribal self-government.