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Read more about the Indian Termination Policy

More, from the perspective of the Klamath tribes



How Would You Like to be Terminated?

A mural of an Eagle on the Menominee Indian Reservation
The fifties brought many things: cars with fins, the hula-hoop, drive-in theaters, suburbia, and the "Indian Termination Policy". But why, what, when, where? Indian who?? I thought the government already got rid of them. Well, in fact, in the 1950s, Indians were still around and, even more importantly, many of them were becoming very successful.

For example, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin were almost a completely self-sufficient tribe. They had their own tribal government, police, hospital, and schools. They produced their own electricity through their hydroelectric power plant, and they even had their own tribal social security program. They were one of the wealthiest tribes in the United States. The school system was nothing less then awesome: they had a high school graduation rate of 89%, meaning 89% of the enrolled students graduated on time. Many were leaving the reservation to go to college, then coming back to work for the betterment of the reservation.

The Great Seal of the Menominee Nation
The Menominees also had their own forestry services, which created much of the economic base for the reservation. They had a lumber program that basically planted trees every year for the trees that were cut down. It was a very sustainable way to create an economic base without harming the environment. This thinking was a part of the Menominee culture; as Native Americans, they have a very close connection to the environment. Many of their ceremonies give thanks to the earth and water. Their forestry program was a modern way to make money but still live on with their ancient beliefs and culture. As a whole, the Menominees were becoming very successful, even through years and years of oppression; from when the first settlers came to present, they were treated like second-class citizens. But now the Menominees had their own sustainable community, from electricity to housing. The quality of life was starting to improve; it looked like they could only go uphill from there.

Knock on wood! Come in "Indian Termination Policy"! We spoke a little too soon. The Menominees where doing so well, it seemed nothing could go wrong. But their success was one of the reasons why they were targeted for "Termination". Since I keep talking about termination, I'd better tell you what it was. If you were thinking it's like the movie "The Terminator," it's not. The Indian Termination Policy was a number of things, and the goals of the termination were widespread as well. Termination was a federal policy adopted by the United States Congress in 1953. In short, the policy was to force assimilation of Indians into mainstream American culture. Of course, Congress had their so-called justifications for this assimilation. Their reason was to make Indians more a part of the American society in all forms, so they would be an economic contributor and not an economic burden. They wanted the Indians to put away their eagle feathers and traditional ceremonies in exchange for economic stability. It was once again to change the already oppressed lives of Indians.

Nick putting in a helping hand on building a traditional Menominee lodge
So how would they and how did they do this? Well, they had to change many things in Indian country, and when I say Indian country, I mean the entire Indian community. First they had to diminish and throw out all treaties and agreements between the different tribal governments and the United States. They had to polish them off really quickly so they wouldn't hold them up anymore. They had to completely abolish tribal governments; they had to completely take away reservations, including land and all tribal assets. The United States had to get rid of almost every single agreement ever made with Indians, especially if they benefited Indians in any way, shape or form. Led by Senator Watkins from Utah and Senator Berry from South Dakota, Congress put it in motion and got the wheels turning for Termination. They passed the policy and set in motion huge changes in Indian country.


The Mad search for Mayo!

The Indians were to be terminated, so the tribal rolls were to be stopped. The tribal rolls kept track of all tribal members. Part of termination was to eliminate the idea of being Indian, so stopping tribal rolls were a given, right? The government wanted to make certain that, from this point on, Indians didn't exist on paper. When they existed on paper, they cost the government money. They turned reservations into counties, to be dealt with like any other county in America. They took all tribal lands and assets. This is where the government started to see the money they could make off termination. For example, after the Klamath tribes of Oregon had their ancestral land taken away through termination, the government stood ready to make 250 million dollars in the next thirty years, from the timber resources alone. Who knows what other money they were making from other natural resources found on the Klamath tribes' land. The point is, this wasn't an attempt to better the lives of Indians; it was to better the economy of the United States, at the cost of over one hundred Indian tribes in America. It's kind of hard to grasp, but think about it. One day you wake up, and your parents tell you, "Today is our last day of being Indian." What would that feel like? At any age, I would be very confused. Would my skin change color? Would I cut my hair shorter? What would happen?

Welcome to the Menominee Indian Reservation
What happened after termination was heartbreaking. All federal money to reservations was cut off, which shut down the schools, hospitals, and tribal government. Most important, needed basic services were gone. Soon reservations that once were successful found themselves in poverty. Poverty replaced prosperity, and the social and cultural fabric that once held the people together was dissipating. The dark days of terminated tribes had come. When all tribal lands were taken away and the reservations turned into counties, people were forced to buy their own land back, and many couldn't afford it. The people who lost their jobs and homes had no choice but to move to urban areas. There was a huge migration of Indians from reservations to cities. Indians in urban areas had to undergo many changes. They had to have apartments, pay rent, adapt to the fast-paced life of urban America. Bars in the cities became the social gathering spots for many Indians. Social life in the cities wasn't much better than the reservations. The poverty of the reservation followed Indians to ghettos of cities. It was hard to find jobs and good schools. Many urban Indians became alcoholics, not knowing how to deal with their situation. Many went to jail for various things. People in urban areas were very prejudiced towards Indians because they weren't used to them; this made it very hard for Indians to be accepted into everyday society. The government did give money to Indians to move to cities, but didn't help them once they got there. Many of the newly-urban Indians lived in substandard housing and went to low-budget schools.

The Sturgeon a Menominee traditional food they can get to be over 200lbs
One of the saddest parts of the termination policy was that it terminated more than land, tribal schools, businesses, stability and federal funds. It terminated Indian ways of life; these times of struggle caused many to lose their cultural identity. They didn't go to schools that taught their language because none existed any more, they were no longer around people who were culturally the same as them, they no longer practiced their traditional ceremonies, and they weren't taught anything about their culture in school or out. The loss of cultural identity is one of the biggest long-lasting effects of the termination policy. If people no longer know anything about their culture or who they are it gives them no reason to ever do anything for their people. It also makes it very hard to find that sense of culture later in life. That reason is why so many Indians continue to struggle today on and off the reservations.

After the Indians were terminated, they tried many times to get their federal recognition status back. Many were unsuccessful and still are trying to get federal recognition to this very day. As for the Menominees, they fought long and hard for their tribal rights, which were finally restored on December 22, 1973. Restoration led to the return of the full tribal status for the Menominees including tribal assets and land. The restoration act was only the beginning for the recovery of the Menominees. They had to build schools, create jobs, healthcare and restructure government. The Menominees have done a very good job at recovery. Their sustainable forest industry continues to bring in money. They have a college on the reservation. They also have a good school system and a good hospital. They have many more plans for the future that will improve the standard of living on the reservation.

Other tribes weren't so fortunate. Many that were restored never made it back to the stability that they once had. Many tribes were never restored and have faded away into American culture to be lost.

The main thing we need to learn about the Termination Policy is that it negatively affected the lives of many Indians and positively affected the dominant culture of America that runs the government. Many people benefited through the policy unknowingly, in the form of tax cuts. Little did they know that these little tax cuts were kicking people out of their homes, taking away their identity and their entire way of life. So, things to learn about the termination of Indians is that we must watch our government very closely to make sure they don't continue to have programs that oppress some people just to create a stronger economy for mainstream America. The way to combat this is awareness: educate yourself on what the government is doing, so if it's something you don't agree with, you can let them know. If we aren't aware of what our government is doing, we might be very upset with what they do with our money. And things like the Indian Termination Policy might happen and will happen again unless we as a whole do something about it.

Menominee tribal clinic
So do me a little favor: look at your paycheck if you have a job. Look at how many taxes are taken out. Don't you wonder where it's going??? It sure doesn't tell you on your paycheck stub, that's for sure. Who knows what they are doing with it? For your own safety and the safety of our society, it's very important to know where all of our money is spent. When you hear all these stories about tax cuts on the radio and TV, what does that mean? It's quite possible that it could mean you might benefit from it, but somebody else could be suffering from it, or vice versa. The only way to ever find out is to educate yourself. Just remember, education is the key to awareness, and awareness is a very powerful thing.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


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