On the home front in World War II, Indians openly supported the war effort. There were 40,000 left on the reservations who worked in war Industries. One third of the eligible men fought in the war.
Indians made the same wages working on war industry jobs as others, regardless of race or gender. There was true parity. They cultivated a concept of time (something they did not have before), and were praised by their employers. As a rule, they were better employees than whites.
Job opportunities created a migration from the reservations at a rate not previously seen. The Lumbee Indians migrated from North Carolina and spread as far as the Great Lakes. They ran into a greater diversity of people, and also greater income.
The Iroquois migrated from upstate New York as far as Denver, Colorado. The Navajo migrated from the four corners area to both coasts.
All of this exposed the Indians to a wider world. This was quite important, especially for those who wanted to assimilate.
They acquired job skills they had not had before. By 1945, Indians were in skilled and managerial positions. Many sent the bulk of the money they made back home to their parents/families. Few noted racial discrimination.
Indians on the reservations also participated in the war effort. They announced publicly that they would not pursue legal issues with the Government while the war was in progress. They also opened up reservation lands for gunnery and bombing ranges, training centers, etc.
In 1942, FDR signed an executive order forcing Japanese Americans into containment camps. Many of the camps were located on Indian reservations. The Indians did not like the idea of containment, but welcomed the camps; as they knew that Washington would have to construct facilities; provide agriculture on the lands, etc. and other benefits that would remain on the land after the war ended.
The Cost of World War II in 1942 dollars was $2 trillion.
Indians bought war bonds/war stamps to help the war effort. Many tribes donated their tribal allocation from the government to buy war bonds. The Crow Indians alone donated $10,000.00. Individual Indians also bought bonds and stamps.
In 1945, American Indians purchased $50 million in war bonds.
Indians put on presentations in white communities to raise money for the war effort. The Pueblo Indians put on an Indian dance ceremony. Price of admission was the purchase of a war bond.
Indians donated iron and scrap metal to the effort, as well as any metal they did not use. They scoured the countryside, and sent their children into the schools to look for scrap metal.
They also saved meat droppings and animal fat. This was used to make glycerin, used in dynamite. Also saved cotton rags, worn out clothing, etc. used to make smokeless gunpowder. They also collected scrap rubber for the war effort.
Patriotic posters were put up, printed in both English and their tribal dialect. Many served in civilian defense positions as airplane spotters and as nurses.
On Pearl Harbor day, five Japanese submarines (at least) were off the coast of California. One actually fired shells at the Oregon coast. German submarines were also in the Caribbean, the Mississippi River, even the Ashley River in Charleston. At least one German sub was spotted off the coast of Myrtle Beach.
Many communities near the coast had observation posts for air raids. Indians also had observation posts; and were watching for a possible invasion. Others formed teams to battle paratroopers/saboteurs, if necessary.
Not everyone felt comfortable about Indian efforts. The Indians had been subjected to Nazi propaganda; and there was some fear that they might rise up.
Fire fighting teams fought fires in Oregon and Montana started by Japanese fire bombs dropped from balloons.
Indians reopened vacated boarding schools and used them as military medical centers. Soldiers injured overseas were brought there for treatment.
Indian agriculture was encouraged. They produced $22 million in crops; $20 million in beef for the armed forces. This was also a financial windfall for the Indians.
Twenty five thousand Indians fought in the war. This hurt the community. Even those with a warrior tradition did not want to lose their children.
Many tribes conducted a religious ceremony before one left for service. The Navajo conducted a blessingway ceremony; a prayer to the Great Spirit, usually with tobacco and other sacred elements, and a holy man asking for divine protection. Other tribes had similar ceremonies.
It apparently worked, too. Of all the Navajo who underwent the blessingway ceremony, no one died. Many others who did not go through the ceremony did die.
When the soldiers returned, the Navajo conducted an enemyway ceremony. This was a cleansing ceremony, to cleanse one of all responsibility for battle actions. Soldiers usually brought something from an enemy they had fought; a button, gun, etc. The object was placed at the center, holy man prayed for cleansing and the object was buried.
Again, it worked. Those who underwent enemyway did not suffer posttraumatic stress disorder from war experiences.
The Japanese did not take kindly to soldiers having possessions from one of their men. If an Indian (or any other soldier, for that matter) was found in possession of a button, etc. he was normally killed on the spot, often by beheading, or was used for bayonet practice.)
Good Book: Strong Heart/Wounded Souls.
Vietnam war veterans who were Indians and went through the enemyway ceremony also did not suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
Many Indians carried a medicine patch into battle, It contained items of some spiritual significance; possibly a bit of earth from the homeland, a bond, a lock of hair, etc. The holy man had blessed the bag, and they believed it would provide spiritual protection. Many Indians who carried medicine bags were never injured in battle.
One Indian was captured by the Germans who were so impressed with the significance of the medicine bag; they allowed the Indian to keep it. Ira Hayes also carried a medicine bag. .
During battle, Indians also engaged in spiritual exercises, sometimes before battle. This included praying, fasting, dancing, etc.
Seventy Indians received combat metals; two received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Indian Soldiers encountered some problems:
·Race: They were typically designated and indicated to be white. There were exceptions. The state of Virginia refused to do so, and designated them as "colored." Virginia insisted they serve in black units, said all the Virginia Indians had some black blood. Virginia battled the war department over this issue until 1943, when the War Department countermanded the state.
Eighteen Pumunkey Indians, descendants of Powhatan, died in World War II, yet Virginia insisted on classifying them as Black.
·During 1940-42, the Iroquois Indians tried to evoke the Treaty of Canandaiga, said they couldn’t be drafted. Washington reminded them that Congress had overruled all Indian Treaties in 1940.
·There was some draft resistance in Arizona. They claimed they were not part of the United States. Many were imprisoned for one year for draft dodging.
·Deterioration of the reservation. The cost of the war caused programs, construction, reforestation, and school programs to be cut back.
When Indian veterans returned from the war, reservations had seriously deteriorated, were dilapidated, and in disrepair. They also discovered changed government attitudes towards Indians.
During the War, Congress saw 25,000 Indians fight, 40,000 in defense employment off the reservation; and believed that now the Indians could safely leave the reservation – the old assimilation thing again.
·They believed Indians were better prepared for assimilation.
·Congress was also becoming increasingly conservative.
·There was some suspicion that the IRA would spawn communism. That it would allow the Russians to get a foothold in America.
Traditional Indian society was very close to socialism. Even so, they hardly were the type to be pawns of the Soviets. This was partly due to the "red scare" of 1945; many Americans were scared of a Russian/Communist infiltration. They were afraid that the atheistic communists would take over God-fearing America. The IRA seemed to have the "shadows of Communism. This might give the Soviets a foothold; therefore the appropriations to reservations were cut.
·More Global Awareness. The communists had to be "contained," this required a major outlay of cash to keep up a military presence and fight the Godless communists. The feeling was, cutting the Indians loose could save money.
In 1950, Dillon Myer , ("Dillon the Villain") became Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was a supporter of the old "turn the Indians loose" idea. He wanted to return them to State jurisdiction.
The idea was, if they could be made to join society, dismantle their reservations, and be regular Americans, there would be no need to spend money on them.
Dillon came up with a policy he called "termination." (Poor choice of words.) At the very least, this would eliminate Indian identity.
Many Indians were concerned. What about those who had not been assimilated? What about the Indian schools? They felt they were not yet in a position to join white society.
There was the potential for problems also if the States controlled Indian affairs. Arizona and New Mexico still refused Indians the right to vote. There was (and still is) a high level of prejudice against Indians and Hispanics in those areas.
The Indians were worried by the termination policy. Congress did not get around to implementing it until 1954:
·World Events took precedence. Problems in Korea, Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, etc.
·The BIA was slow in getting materials to Congress. The Bureau was supposed to designate which tribes were more nearly ready to move into the mainstream, and terminate services to those tribes first. Employees of the BIA who did not believe in assimilation had purposely slowed down the process.
Meyer proceeded with his second program in 1950: This was the Relocation Program. He wanted to physically move Indians from the reservation to urban communities. Under the plan, the BIA would provide cash for the cost of moving, and $50.00 cash to tide them over for the first month. It would also provide food for the first month, help locate jobs, and a place to live. Relocation was completely voluntary, but there were two stipulations:
·There could be no more than two Indian families in the same city block – he didn’t want any mini-reservations firing up.
·They could not move. If they did so, it would be at their own expense.
Meyer had been in charge of the Japanese Containment and Relocation program during the war.
There were problems:
·The cost of the program had been underestimated, particularly the cost of housing. The fifty bucks was woefully inadequate. (Most families were moved to Apartment complexes.)
·Two families could not be prevented from living in one block. Many moved at their own expense, and mini-reservations started to develop.
Because of the cost of urban living, many Indians opened their homes to members of their extended family. Many people often packed into small apartments. Kids often slept in doorways and stairways. Many couldn’t find work because of renewed discrimination.
Despite problems with the program, 35,000 Indians relocated by 1960, but by that year, over half of them had returned to the reservations.
Still, termination became Government policy. Tribes were stripped of their Federal recognition status, which meant they got no Federal money. In 1962, sixty-one tribes lost recognition, including the Paiute, Catawba, and Seminole.
Indian tribal lands fell victim to land speculation; and poverty was once again rampant in the 1960’s. Living conditions declined dramatically.
Conditions on the Reservations spiraled downward in the 50’s and 60s’
·Unemployment reached 40% vs. 3 5 % for General Population. It was even higher in some areas. On the Pine Ridge, S.D. reservation, the Sioux had 75% unemployment in the summer, 90% in the winter.
·Incomes plummeted. Average Indian income was $1500.00 annually in 1960, vs. $5900.00 for whites, and $3200.00 for blacks. These figures were also skewed. The Osage Indians had discovered oil on their reservation, and tribes in the Southwest had discovered uranium. The Sioux on Pine Ridge had an income of less than $200.00 annually.
·Suicide rate increased again – six times greater than in general population.
·Deaths from flu, pneumonia, etc. were three times greater than in general population.
·Hepatitis was eight times greater than in general population. Other diseases were comparable to rates at the time of the Meriam report.
·Twenty two per cent of reservations had a contaminated water supply.
·By the mid-sixties, the average life expectancy was 44 vs. 70 for the general population.
·The Federal Government estimated that 63,000 Indians lived in substandard housing.
Some Navajo still live in substandard conditions on the reservation; some still live in Hogans.
·Education also plummeted. Indian schools closed and the illiteracy rate reached 25% Most of those classified as literate had only a fifth grade education. Few Indians made it past the ninth grade.
·Racial discrimination was evident. Indian arrests were 30 times greater than the white rate, six times greater than the black rate. When convicted, Indians normally got more jail time than whites or blacks.
This was in the Sixties, when racism was still rampant.
The indifference of Americans, plus the termination policy had been the problem. Most Americans figured the Indians could leave the reservation if and when they wanted to. In fact, poverty often prevented them from leaving.
Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all had positions in their party platforms that addressed Indian issues and demanded improved conditions.
Kennedy did nothing. (What did he ever do, except become a hero for being shot.) LBJ founded the "Great Society," and particularly, pointedly included Indians in his program.
VISTA worked on Indian reservations. It was originally supposed to be a domestic peace corps, and work in urban areas, but it worked on the reservations also.
Voting rights received attention also. LBJ worked for equal voting rights for Indians. Almost all Great Society programs included Indians as beneficiaries.
The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 guaranteed Indians Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Assembly, all the First Amendment Rights that other Americans had enjoyed for years. They were also guaranteed the right of Due Process of Law.
Also, it was provided that State Governments could secure jurisdiction over Indians only if the Indians themselves consented. This amounted to legal self-determination.
In 1970, Richard Nixon announced the end of the termination policy. He extended right of tribal determination and self-government to all Indians living within Indian Territory. So there could now be Indian courts, Indian police, etc.
Congress authorized a new survey, led by Ted Kennedy, under the Brookings Institute. This became the Kennedy Report.
The report said that despite all the programs to improve the lot of Indians, they were still living in atrocious conditions.
In 1970, there were two physicians at Pine Ridge, S.D. for 10,000 Indians. These Drs. had gone there rather than go to Vietnam; when their two-year term was up, they planned to leave.
CBS News did its own investigation at Pine Ridge, and found a high crime rate, particularly murder. People also were living in squalid conditions.
The public was nauseated. The Kennedy report became part of the public record at the height of the sixties social awareness period. The report so shocked the public that there was a great outcry for immediate changes.
This constituted a great rise in popular sympathy and consciousness in the non-Indian population.
Because of non-Indian support, public schools began teaching Native American history and culture. Federal Grants funded Native American studies. Popular literature addressed Native American Issues.
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee set the official record straight from the Indian perspective, and also popularized Indian culture.
Several movies correctly portrayed Indians:
·A Man Called Horse
·Little Big Man
·Soldier Blue – about Wounded Knee.
Popular songs appeared about Indians. Cher sang "Cherokee Nation.
Congress took its cue from public sentiment, and reinstated Federal recognition to tribes that had been stripped of recognition.
Federal Loans and Scholarships for College programs were initiated, also loans and grants to obtain housing. Affirmative action programs included Indians. All because the public was demanding change.
Indians were also taking direct action, and initiating public awareness. The American Indian Movement (AIM) was an Indian version of the Black Panthers. They were established in 1968 in Minnesota, largely Sioux and Chippewa. Their program was to "guarantee Indian independence and self-determination." They also planned to restore Indian land.
They were a militant organization; prepared to use force if necessary.
Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther, said violence was as American as Cherry Pie."Russell Means was one of the founders of AIM. (He appears as older Indian in Last of the Mohicans.)
In 1968, AIM sent a delegation to New York and "occupied" Ellis Island; chased off tourists and rangers. They also went to several small military installations and took them over also.
In November 1969, AIM went to San Francisco and took over Alcatraz Island, (abandoned as a prison at this point). They claimed they had rights to the Island under an 1868 treaty which said the Island was open to Indian homesteading, and basically "squatted." They occupied the Island for a month. The Press ate it up.
In 1972, they led a "Caravan of Broken Treaties" to Washington, D.C. There they held a six-day demonstration, and demanded serious attention to Indian affairs. They occupied the offices of the BIA, and ran off the workers.
In November 1973, AIM members, armed to the teeth, went into Wounded Knee (the town) and occupied the entire town at gunpoint. They held it until March 1974. Russell Means basically said, "We’re back."
The Army and National Guard surrounded the town, and gunfire was exchanged. Several Indians were killed, and there were some injuries among the servicemen.
This, more than any other event, jolted the attention of Americans. Marlon Brando refused to accept an Oscar Award, because, he said, Hollywood had showed an incorrect image of Indians.
The issue was resolved when the Indians vacated the town. Several went to prison, including Russell Means. But it had jolted the American Conscience.
Since 1973, studies of Native American Culture and Indian studies have been developed. Indians have been allowed to pursue self-determination in reality. They have been allowed to have gambling on reservations, and things others can’t do as part of self-determination.
Today, about one third of American Indians are assimilated into mainstream society. Some Indians are unsure that total assimilation will ever occur.
Racism is still a problem. In upstate N.Y. the Iroquois still face discrimination.Finis