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Native Americans and the U.S. Government

September 23, 2016

Native Americans and the U.S. Government

The history of relationships between the American Indians and the American Government has been always associated with myriads of the conflicting policies. On the one hand, the American Government introduced the policies aimed at replacing the American Indians’ culture by the civilization of white Anglo-Saxons, which had to assimilate the natives. On the other hand, the Indians possessed the sovereign rights to the lands of their ancestors. A broader understanding of the policies may be observed through the educational philosophy introduced in one of the Indian boarding school dated back to the 19th century. In 1908 the founder of the Carlisle Indian boarding school in the state of Pennsylvania, Richard II Pratt proclaimed the basics of the coercive assimilation. He adhered to the opinion that the diversity of the tribes made it possible to mix people of different origins. The dormitory rooms held up to four persons and each of them belonged to a different tribes. Such system helped to break racial and tribal boundaries.  

In the 1930s one of the goals of the New Deal was to completely modify coercive assimilation. John Collier, the Commissioner for Indian Affairs, introduced a policy with the imperative objective to preserve and support the peculiar aspects of Indian culture, and particularly to restore the American Indian tribes. Collier’s memorandum stated that the new Indian policy might contribute to the refinement of the American democracy.

The next step taken by the government was rather radical and aimed at the termination of the particular arrangements in the sphere of education and welfare for the American Indians. Such action led to the artificial dependency. Moreover, in the 1950s the Indians were regarded to be special that correspondingly made them un-Americans. Additionally, the adherents of the termination rejected the equality of the Indians to any other ethnic group and thought it would lead to Americanization of the Indian tribes.

In the 1970s the idea of termination became unpopular; both Kennedy and Johnson disagreed with it. Along with them, President Nixon supported tribal restoration, claiming that termination was inadmissible. He asked the Congress to respect the integrity of the Indian Americans and recognize cultural pluralism as the primary source of the national power. Such a strong position encouraged the Congress to accept the Indian Self-determination Act of 1975, which allowed the Indians to make decisions on their own.

That Act brought about a contradiction because its implementation was a complicated issue, which was reflected in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Signed in 1978 by President Carter, the document declared that the Unites States should support the American Indians and their rights of freedom to worship according to their traditions, including various rituals and ceremonies.

The selected divine place of the Indians, Point Concepcion, situated in California, had to become an area for natural gas terminal. Although the scheme of building the terminal was finally cancelled, the Native American tribes were willing to fight for their place of spiritual importance.

The similar situation occurred in 1979 when Tellico Dam opened the floodgates on the sacred for the Cherokee by the Tennessee River Valley. Although the floodgates could contribute to recreation and flood control, the department of archeologists reported that the Cherokee contained remains vital for the American history. Such misunderstandings caused tensions between the American Indians and the Government and became the background for the current events.

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