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Captain Jack
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



current topic 1934-1964

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A History of American Indians in California:

During the next three decades, California Indians continued to experience ups and downs. In 1934, two major pieces of legislation were enacted that affected California Indians: the Indian Reorganization Act and the Johnson-O'Malley Act. Of these, the Indian Reorganization Act probably had the more far-reaching effects. First, the act provided for keeping Indian land in trust; it returned to the tribe reservation land that remained surplus after allotments; and it restricted the granting of rights-of-way over reservation lands, restricted release of lands, and provided for the Secretary of the Interior to purchase inholdings in the reservation for Indian use. The act also ordered that forests on Indian lands be managed on a sustained-yield basis, authorized $250,000 to defray the expenses of organizing Indian-chartered corporations or other organizations under the act, and provided $10,000,000 for a revolving fund to promote economic development. Finally, the act provided for loans to Indians to attend trade or vocational schools.

"The viewpoint underlying the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was most fully and clearly expressed by John Collier, as in this memorandum written while he was Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1943: 'I see the broad function of Indian policy and Indian administration to be the development of Indian democracy and equality within the framework of American and world democracy. . . . The most significant clue to achieving full Indian democracy with and as a part of American democracy, is the continued survival, through all historical change and disaster, of the Indian Tribal group, both as a real entity and a legal entity. I suspect the reason we do not always give this fact the recognition it deserves is that we do not want to recognize it. . . . Congress through the Indian Reorganization Act, invoked the tribe as a democratic operational mechanism. . . . We can divest ourselves of the lingering fear that tribalism is a regression, and we can look upon it as a most important single step in assimilating Indians to modern democratic life. . . . Indians have the right of self-determination. . . . The Indian office is moving from guardian to advisor from administrator to friend in court (Spicer, 1969:247-248)

The Indian Reorganization Act was based on the assumption that the way to assimilate Indians into American society was to have tribal government work as a democracy, much as the United States government operates. This was a reversal in attitude from the Dawes Act of 1887, which attempted to disband Indian tribal organization. However, both acts sought in different ways the goal of Indian self-determination.

Another important piece of legislation was "the Johnson O'Malley Act which provided federal funding to local school districts to pay costs for reservation residents in lieu of local taxes." (Heizer, 1978:125) This act removed the only remaining argument against Indian children attending public schools. It also provided that Indian children no longer needed to be moved long distances from their homes and families to attend school, even though some still chose to do so.

Toward the end of World War II and immediately thereafter, Indians began to establish organizations. The major difference between these organizations and earlier ones was that Indians governed them. Three important organizations that were established were the Native American Church, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Federated Indians of California.

The Congress of American Indians was established "to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian people; to preserve Indian cultural values; to seek an equitable adjustment to tribal affairs and tribal claims; to secure and to preserve rights under Indian treaties or agreements with the United States; to promote the common welfare of the American Indian; and to foster the continued loyalty and allegiance of the American Indians to the flag of the United States. . . ." (Spicer, 1969:290)

The Native American Church was established for a much different purpose, the advancement of Native American religion. The reasons for its establishment are found in the church's preamble and articles of incorporation, which state, "Whereas, The 'human rights' of all citizens of our country are guaranteed and protected by amendment 1 to the Constitution of our country . . . this corporation is formed to foster and promote religious believers in Almighty God and the customs of the several Tribes of Indians throughout the United States in the worship of a Heavenly Father and to promote morality, sobriety, industry, charity, and the right living and cultivate a spirit of self-respect and brotherly love and union among the members (Spicer, 1969:288)

Finally, the Federated Indians of California was established for a very specific reason. "In 1944 the Court of Claims awarded the California Indian their first substantial judgment, netting them approximately $5,000,000." (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1966:13) However, in establishing the $5,000,000 amount, the court followed the mandate of the Lea Act, which provided ". . . a gross recovery, the benefits which were to have been paid to only 1/3 to 1/2 of them under the 18 unratified treaties of 1851-1852. By this proposed settlement this figure is now established at $17,816,624.48. From this figure must be deducted . . . the subsequent specific benefits granted by the government to all of the Indians . . . this amount is fixed at $12,650,761.02." (Kenny, 1944:44) Benefits granted to the Indians included items such as thread, thimbles, needles, hoes, etc. However, the vast majority of the $12,000,000 covered administrative costs of running the Bureau of Indian Affairs in California. Add to this those funds misspent early on, and it is easy to see that Indians actually received very little benefit from the $12,000,000.

The proposed $5,000,000 settlement caused an uproar. In response to the controversy, the government established the Indian Land Claims Commission in 1946. Because Indians were no longer willing to allow non-Indians to push the Indian cause, in 1947 the Federal Indians of California was founded. The group submitted an $88,000,000 claim as a proposed settlement above and beyond the $5,000,000 already awarded. The 100 delegates present adopted a resolution granting the executive committee the power to hire legal counsel and press the claim. (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1966:13)

Much of the activity occurring after World War II was the result of Indians being introduced to a wider perspective. "Now, war as we know it is a horrible thing, but the war did one thing for our Indian people as it did for so many representatives of many ethnic groups. It took them out of their environment, and it scattered them all over the world, as well as the United States, and they saw how the other half lived." (Harrison, 1966:11) Many Indians returned from the war more aware of the way in which governments worked. The war had shown them how the rest of the world lived, and they were no longer satisfied with what was previously theirs. Some returned to their groups with this newly developed knowledge, while others ventured out on their own.

Following World War II, a movement called "termination" began. Termination was to be a process of removing Indians and their land from federal trust. "After the war, as the United States spent millions of dollars rebuilding Germany and Japan, the government hoped to rid itself of its embarrassing failure to 'rebuild' Indian nations by simply withdrawing government aid to Indian people. This philosophy was expressed in the Hoover Commission survey of 1948." (Heizer, 1978:122)

The 1950s saw the beginning of the Hoover Commission's recommendation to initiate termination. "California Indian tribes were to be among the first targets for termination. The commissioner of Indian affairs who inaugurated this policy, Dillon Meyer, was principally known as the man responsible for administering Japanese-American concentration camps during World War II. In 1952, the Bureau of Indian Affairs began to energetically push termination: the Indian Service introduced to Congress several termination bills specifically for California, and in anticipation of that policy, the government ended all Indian Service welfare payments to pauper Indians in the state." (Heizer, 1978:122)

Also in 1950, the first $5,000,000 settlement was distributed to Indians in California. "Congress finally adopted legislation providing $150 for each California Indian (leaving a portion of the award still in the U.S. Treasury)." (Forbes, 1969:106) However, by 1951, 23 separate claims had been filed with the Indian Land Claims Commission for additional relief.

The first law that actually initiated termination was in the field of criminal justice. "In 1953 Congress passed Public Law 280, which brought California Indian Reservations under the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the state." (Heizer, 1978:122) Crime occurring on the reservation was no longer the responsibility of the United States government. This new law caused much confusion and resulted in poor protection for Indians on reservations. It was frequently reported that many county sheriffs would arrive three or four days late for emergency situations. In 1957, California Indians called unsuccessfully for repeal of the act.

In late 1952, another issue was brought to the attention of the public. "Twenty-two young Indians, veterans of World War II and Korea, claimed they cannot buy shaving lotion because it contains alcohol. They have formed an Indian Right Organization to fight what they call 'this new menace to the Indian.'" (Sacramento Bee, Dec. 29, 1952, p. 1) However, this was not the first time that the problem had been brought to the attention of the government. In 1946, Indians, in a hearing in Eureka, requested that the prohibition against the sale of alcohol to Indians be lifted. In April 1953, Governor Earl Warren signed into law Senate Bill 344, which for the first time in 81 years made it legal for "full blooded Indians" to purchase alcohol. (Sacramento Bee, Apr. 9, 1953, p. 10)

In 1954, the process of termination moved closer to reality through House Resolution 108 the intent of which was "as rapidly as possible to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States. . . . Indian tribes and the individual members thereof, located within the States of California [and other states] . . . should be freed from Federal supervision and control and from all disabilities and limitations specially applicable to Indians (Spicer, 1969:218)

"The California Legislature had endorsed the idea of termination in 1953 but during 1954 made an abrupt change, largely as a result of the hearings conducted by the State Senate Interim Committee on Indian Affairs. The committee found that most reservations were simply unprepared for termination, with a multitude of problems often including undefined boundaries, no roads, no water, no sanitation, substandard housing, and 2,600 complicated heirship cases. The state was unwilling to accept the financial responsibility for correcting the failures of bureau management and opposed the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] termination legislation." (Forbes, 1969:112)

"In 1954, a conference of social scientists, mainly anthropologists, met under the chairmanship of former Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs John H. Provinse for the purpose of pooling their knowledge and bringing it to bear on federal Indian policy. A portion of the statement they produced follows. 'An assumption which seems to underlie the basic philosophy of much of the United States approach centers about the idea that assimilation of the American Indian into the normal stream of American life is inevitable, that Indian tribes and communities will disappear. There was complete agreement on the part of the discussants that this prediction is unwarranted. . . . Group feeling and group integrity among the American Indian are as likely to gain strength in the decades ahead as they are to lose it.'" (Spicer, 1969:249-250)

Again in 1957, the process of termination was initiated. "In 1957-58, the State Senate Interim Committee conducted another investigation and found that 'with minor exceptions . . . very little has been done to carry out the recommendations set forth in the [1954-55] report' to prepare Indian reserves for termination. In spite of that fact, the committee in 1957 recommended termination legislation. . . ." (Forbes, 1969:112-113)

In 1958, the Rancheria Termination Act was enacted. "The law provides for the distribution of all rancheria land and assets and directs that a plan be prepared for each rancheria outlining to whom and how the assets shall be distributed. Such a plan, when approved by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and accepted by the participant, becomes the operating program under which title is transferred from the Government to the Indians." (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1966:16) While plans were developed and termination proceeded, many of the plans were not implemented. However, "In response to the pressures of termination, the land claims case, and other issues, on May 3, 1958, Inter Tribal Council of California (ITCC) was founded. The Council was the successor to the California Indian Congress, which was disbanded at the formation of the new group. The purpose of ITCC is to protect Indian land ownership, preserve established privileges and immunities, and promote understanding and unity and preserve cultural values." (Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1958, pp. 4, 9)

In 1959, the problems with termination were temporarily forgotten. "In that year, the Indian Claims Commission issued an order stating that the Indians of California had aboriginal title, as of 1853, to approximately 64 million acres of California land west of the Sierra Nevada." (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1966:20) A settlement of $29,100,000 was awarded as redress. This amounted to approximately 47 cents per acre. The Indian Claims Commission approved the settlement in 1964, and Congress appropriated the funds that same year.

Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, Amador County

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