The Indian Reorganization Act and Southwest Pueblo Indians

The Indian Reorganization Act also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act was passed on June 18 1934. The act reversed allotment and encouraged tribal organization. John Collier who was then the commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was the chief organizer of this act. He thought it to be important for two major reasons; first of all he believed that tribes should be self-governing. Second he believed allotment should be ended as it had already taken a large amount of land that had previously belonged to the various Indian tribes and placed it in government possession. Though Collier was a powerful advocate for Indians and Indian tribes it is very likely that these beliefs stemmed at least partly from the Meriam report which closely examined life on Indian reservations. The Meriam report published in 1928 was a very in depth report with over eight hundred pages of data that was retrieved from various tribes over a seven month time period. It extensively delved into the daily lives of Indians on reservations and was very blunt in stating that living conditions were for the most part unacceptable. For example in the first section of the Meriam report, which is a general overview of life on reservations, it is stated that daily living conditions were poor and conducive to the spread of disease. Also the average Indian’s diet was poor with almost a complete lack of vegetables. Seeing as this was life on reservations it is safe to assume that the lack of vegetables was due to a lack of ability to grow vegetables. It is known that this was true for a vast majority of the lands granted back to Indians during allotment was dry desert land not conducive for agriculture especially en masse. This is confirmed on page 460 of the Meriam report, which states that the land is “rough and arid.” Also on page 460 the allotting of lands to individuals under the Dawes Act of 1887 is discussed. Though it does concede that the original intentions of the Dawes Act were honorable it admits that it was not effective because there was not enough education given to Indians who received the land so they could not properly maximize the land. Page 479 addresses the government’s responsibility to protect and conserve Indian property. In failing to educate Indians on how to properly take care of the land they were granted and how to live off the new land they were given they failed at protecting and conserving the land and the land’s inhabitants which was a previous covenant the federal government made. This is discussed further on page 779 in the section entitled “The Government as Guardian and Trustee of Indian Property.” As a part of the Dawes Act when land was allotted to an individual or family it was held in trust with the federal government for twenty-five years. Not only does this mean that Indians cannot sell the land but it imposes that the government has the duty of protecting and advancing the Indian’s interests. This would include educating the recipients of the land not only of how to work the land but also of the importance of owning land. Allotment was supposed to be the answer to the failing of the previous reservation system by “civilizing” the Native Americans encouraging them to practice agriculture and to adopt the American way of education. Though the lack of agriculture on this land was used to justify allotment the lands allotted to families were not any better than the original land so the growing of crops was still not a reasonable task with the resources they were given and their lack of education. This issue as well as several others such as education and self-governance was exposed in the Meriam Report. The Meriam report charged that the federal government made subpar attempts at assisting the Indian population which was a breach of previous treaties and the Dawes Act and also that the unacceptable state of life was the fault of the federal government. With all of this information that was previously unknown to...
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