July 24, 2001


John Collier founded AIDA to publicly broadcast problems faced by Indians under the Dawes Act. He believed that assimilation was not a valid goal; the Government had been wrong. Multiculturalism was the key.

In 1928 the Meriam report was published. It was entitled: The Problem of Indian Administration. The report was over 800 pages, and incredibly detailed. It was the most glaring indictment of Indian problems to date. Its most glaring accusations dealt with Indian health problems:

· Tuberculosis report for Indians was 26,2 % - seven times higher than among whites.

· Trachoma (an eye disease) had an 18 – 21% occurrence rate. Only 5% in general population.

· Infant mortality Before age one – 26%

By age three - 37% in the general population (white and black) the rate was 16%.

· Suicide rate was six times that of general population. There had been no evidence of suicide prior to contact with whites; it was exceedingly rare.

· Alcoholism was 9 times greater than in general population.

· Pneumonia, typhoid fever, dysentery, venereal disease occurred in rates far higher than in general population.

During a plague outbreak in Europe in the 1600’s, Europe experienced a suicide rate of 16%

It was discovered that physicians at the Indian boarding schools normally checked only one eye if any at all during physical exams. They were anxious to hurry the examination along.

There were few, or no, full time physicians. There also was minimal nursing staff, and medical equipment was a rarity.

The environment at boarding schools contributed to health problems. Food was often served on unwashed dishes that had been previously used, towels and linens were soiled; insect infestation was rampant, and the diet itself was not healthy.

Hygiene was a real problem also. Most of them bathed only once a week. Eastern Indians had previously bathed not less than every few days, and had brushed their teeth with twigs of sassafras. They had bitterly complained about the B.O. they noticed from the Europeans.

Living conditions were also poor. They were overcrowded, had little or not heat or sanitary facilities.

The report also found that 36 % of Indians were illiterate. In some tribes, such as the Apache, the rate was as high as 67^. In the General Population, the rate was 6%. (Today 2002, it is 12%.)

Income was also a problem. Over 84% of Indians lived on less than $200.00 annually. In 1928, the average White earned $2800.00; the average black worker $1100.00

Most Indian land was uncultivated. Indians had little or no knowledge of farming, and farm agents were notably absent. Their Income was so low that they could not afford seed, fertilizer, tools, etc.

Ranching was also grossly unprofitable for the Indians. They presumed that greater profit lay in more cattle. They ended up with more cattle than they could sustain. There was little grass or water, let alone feed, so the animals were unsuitable for market. Again, there was no farm agent to show them the right way to do these things; so land was unprofitable for them either for farming or ranching.

Land quality was poor, and the quantity was reduced every year, as it was sold or leased to whites.

Indians at the boarding schools were given a "classical education," which was useless to them in the real world. They were not taught practical things, life skills, etc.

Racism, particularly in the West, limited opportunities for post-boarding school education. There was a total absence of vocational training. Also, the boarding schools worked to remove Indian culture and values from students, and as a result, they were not accepted at the reservations after school. They were literally not accepted in either society; white or Indian.

Indian home life was also deplorable. Women were unable to prepare nutritious meals; had no method of food preservation, and there was substandard hygiene all over.

The Meriam report was immediately seen as a severe indictment of Indian living conditions; it had no political agenda. The Meriam team was horrified at everything they saw.

The Dawes Allotment Act had been designed to Americanize the Indians. Meriam found that of 255,000 Indians, only 15,000 resided in urban areas, by the most minimal definition of that term.

The report rhetorically asked, "how can one claim to be actively promoting assimilation with the numbers that were presented?"

Those Indians who did live in urban areas lived in segregated communities, and worked at menial jobs.

The Meriam report blasted the Dawes Act. It said that it had only intensified the demise of Indians as a race.

Congress was horrified at the report, and in 1928 ordered steps be taken to improve the situation. However, this was at the time when the Great Depression reared its ugly head, and as a result, all steps taken were "baby steps."

Education was the only area addressed from 1928 – 33. The plan was to close all the boarding schools, and instead build community day schools. Some headway was made, but not much, due to depression.

FDR was elected President in 1932. At that time, unemployment was 24%’ 56 – 72 % in major metropolitan areas.

Roosevelt appointed Harold Ickes as Secretary of Interior. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was under the Interior Department. Ickes appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Collier promoted the "Indian New Deal."

The Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934. It had several goals:

1. Close the boarding schools, and open community day schools. The schools would offer vocational training courses for adults and teenagers. They would be taught skills. There would also be programs for women. Also, Libraries, some of them mobile libraries. Academic instruction would have to be relevant. Also, education would be bi-lingual. Students would be taught essential math skills. There would also be some higher-level courses in science and math. There would also be government loans to finance a college education

Collier knew this would take time. In the meantime, the boarding schools were overhauled; most of the administration and teachers were fired and replaced with education professionals. The paramilitary system was also abolished immediately.

Also, there would be no more brutal discipline. Punishment must be appropriate for the offense. It must be fair, non-physical, and directed towards the infraction.

2. Kitchens and cafeterias at schools were completely overhauled. Staff was increased and toilet facilities expanded.

3. Economic Revitalization: Collier ordered the end of land allotments. The Indians could keep the land already doled out to them, but all tribal land would be held in common.

Irrigation was provided, along with reforestation, grass and soil conservation, insect and rodent control measures were also taken. A fire defense network for spotting and fighting forest fires was implemented. Dams were constructed to increase drinking water, and to increase production of electricity.

4. Job Services: Indians were helped to receive off reservation jobs. Adult Indian males could join a division of the Civilian Conservation Corps, known as the "Indian Division." (CCC-ID). Over 80,000 Indians were involved. When they were not working, they got free job skills training at night.

5. Health Care: Indians were instructed in personal hygiene. Communities were cleansed, and women instructed in meal preparation.

By 1940, there were:

· 120 full time Physicians on reservations.

· 175 part time Physicians.

· 800 full time Registered Nurses.

· 1300 health educators.

· 97 Full service hospitals. Total bed capacity was over 5,000.

· X-ray machines were available on every reservation.

Physicians on the reservations were both competent and dedicated. By 1940, Tuberculosis cases had dropped from 26% to less than 15%; Trachoma was less than 6%; the suicide rate and rate of all other diseases had dropped significantly.

Physical changes by 1940:

· 6200 Small reservoirs operating.

· 2400 new community wells.

· 1000 dams

· 900 bridges

· 7000 miles of truck paths.

· 6500 miles of telephone lines.

· One million acres received pest control

· 5 million acres added to Indian ownership.

A stock reduction program was implemented for the Navajo. They resisted at first, as they didn’t understand. But once implemented, profits rose from $260,000 in 1930 to $3 million by 1938.

Indian average income increased from $200.00 to $600.00 per year; and this during the Great Depression.

Collier believed that the best plan for the Indians was retention of traditional values. So, he legalized the sun dance, and the use of peyote.

Both of these are practiced as of today (7/25/01)

Gradual Indian self-determination was also a goal: The Indians could choose their own path. Those communities that wanted to participate in the Indian Reformation Act must draw up a constitution and have it approved by its tribal members. The Government reserved the right to correct "problems" in the Indian Constitutions. They also had the right to not come under IRA, and be left totally alone by Washington.

There were some critics of Collier and the IRA. Some argued the IRA didn’t accomplish much of substance. They argued that it didn’t fundamentally redirect Indian affairs; programs actually stimulated the assimilation movement.

Some, particularly the Navaho, accused Collier of trying to "return the Indian to the blanket." They said he was actually retarding assimilation for those who wished to be assimilated.

By 1940, most Indians felt that substantial gains had been made. It was almost (but not quite) redress for the mistreatment of the past.

In 1940 World War II broke out. A re-conversion process was begun by Industry, per FDR. He didn’t want to be caught unprepared, as the country had been during WW I. This time, he had seen it coming.

More workers were needed, and Indians had the skills, many had the ability to work in factories off the reservation. This initiated a number of moves off the reservation. By 1945, 40,000 had left the reservation, a major dent in reservation life.

In September, 940, there was the first peacetime military draft. Many Indians complied, many enlisted voluntarily. There was greater Indian compliance with the draft than with any other race/ethic group, including whites. Almost 100%. Why?

· Economics: Many men needed work. There was the promise of food, board, clothing, and a paycheck.

· Job training: The military would provide job training that could be used after one left the service.

· Acculturation: Many Indians had acculturated to white norms. Many were now mixed blood. They had an American Identity and American values. Many considered themselves patriotic Americans.

· Inclusiveness as "white." This appealed to Indians who wanted to assimilate. Government regulations provided that Indians be listed and treated as "white" for all military purposes, and in draft related documents. (Blacks were segregated and given menial jobs.)

· Military service revived the old Warrior Image. This was particularly true of the Plains Indians. It gave them a chance to regain the military glory, demonstrate bravery, etc. They poured into Induction centers en masse; particularly Sioux, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Navajo.

· General level of respect Indian soldiers received from the Public. Their loyalty drew respect.

· Some enlisted because the Government called for personnel with "special abilities." The Army had stereotyped Indians, said that they possessed "endurance and rhythm in battle." Southwest Indians, particularly the Pueblo, were recruited because of a stereotype that they could climb mountains easily. In fact, some Indians were among the first of the advance troops to land at Normandy on D-Day. They were to climb up on the cliffs, and blow up the German Machine Gun placements. They did it too, although most of them were killed.

Lt. Ernest Childers, a Creek Indian, over a period of 2-3 days twice distinguished himself in battle. He was one of two Indians awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Many Indians drew incredible pride from this.

Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, was present and one of those who participated in the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. He saw battle at many hot spots in the Pacific Islands.

Only three marines survived the war after Iwo Jima. Hayes was one of them. It did wonders for the Indian image. White Americans were fascinated with Indians and the stories of Indian bravery in battle.

The New York Times carried a story of one Indian soldier who, when his troupe landed in Italy, jumped onto Italian soil, and said "we are repaying you for Columbus."

The Marine Corps, and later other services, used Indians, particularly Navajo, as radio operators. They communicated in their native language, which had not been widely studied, and was difficult to speak/learn.

Navajo radio dispatches were in double code. Every letter of the alphabet was assigned a Navajo word. (Similar to phonetic alphabet used by Air Traffic Controllers). They also added multiple words, letters, terms, and etc. that would not be repeated. All of this in Navajo. Among the images they used, an airplane was a bird, a tank was a tortoise shooter, a German was an Iron Hat, and a jet fighter was a screaming eagle. (This was also said in Navajo.) They changed letter meanings, etc. in such a way that even other Navajo’s couldn’t break the code.

There were 450 Navajo radio code operators during the war. The Japanese never figured out the codes. This contributed substantially to the U.S. military victory in the Pacific.

Some Indians were actually taken prisoner by American soldiers, because of their physical resemblance to the Japanese.

During World War II, 25,000 Indians, one third of the eligible Indian male population, served in the Armed forces.