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.
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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 the public made available one would understand why the government might feel the need to swiftly pass legislation that would address these problems. For example the Indian Reorganization Act. The main purpose of the IRA was “…to conserve and develop Indian lands and resources; to extend to Indians the right to form business and other organizations; to establish a credit system for Indians; to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians; to provide for vocational education for Indians; and for other purposes” (Prucha 2000).
Tribes under the IRA gained the power to tax goods on their land and to have a tribal criminal justice system that operated on their own tribal terms. The act also authorized the Secretary of the Interior to grant additional land ownership to tribes prohibited trade and sale of Indian lands and required tribes to draft a constitution and form a tribal government. This government was required to consist of bylaws and a constitution voted on by the majority of the tribe and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. The IRA included an election within the tribes at which they would vote on whether or not they accepted these terms.
In order for tribes to receive the benefits of the act they would have to accept it and if they did not certain restrictions would apply to the tribes. From the time that it was introduced tribes had two years to determine whether or not they would abide by the guidelines set forth by the IRA before they had to make a decision or begin to operate under the restrictions set upon them. Among the first tribes to adopt the act were the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (who also happened to evade the Trail of Tears) and the United Keetoowha Band in 1934.
Ultimately approximately 181 tribes accepted the Indian Reorganization Act and about 77 tribes rejected it. Among the tribes to reject it were the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico Arizona and Texas. These nineteen tribes felt as if their constitutional authority had been established in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo, which ended the war with Mexico. In this treaty the United States acquired all of the land that was included in the Mexican Cession (including but not limited to Texas and parts of Arizona and New Mexico) and guaranteed protection of property and civil rights for those living on the lands that previously belonged to Mexico.
This included the Pueblo tribes in these states. Those who were living on the newly American acquired lands also received all the rights and immunities of United States citizens. The United States also agreed to take on the Spanish land grants that had been established between Mexico and the several Indian tribes living there. However when the United States and Mexico both ratified the treaty the U. S. government removed the article that agreed to this. So although the rest of the people living in what was previously the Mexican Cession were granted rights of American citizens these Pueblo tribes were not protected.
This left them open for the U. S. government to group them with the rest of the tribes in America who were subject to legislation such as the Dawes Act and Termination. It is not so surprising then that the Pueblo tribes were hesitant to enter into agreement with the United States government; it only took one transaction with them to understand that they could and would go back on their word if it benefited them. Why then should they have trusted the government to uphold any of the promises they made in the Indian Reorganization Act?
There are likely other reasons that the Pueblo tribes did not want to enter into agreement with the government. Seeing as they had previously been self-governing why would they want to enter into an agreement that offered only partial sovereignty? Under the IRA they would have a constitution that they drafted as well as their own criminal justice system but all of this would have to be approved by the Secretary of the Interior. If the secretary did not approve they could not operate under the IRA with their sovereignty.
With not agreeing to the IRA came full sovereignty (though this was increasingly difficult with allotment having had happened. The IRA did end allotment but as previously stated the rewards of this program were only for those tribes obedient to the government. ) As long as the Pueblos did not agree to operate under the IRA, they could continue to live on their land by their own traditional rules and guidelines. Having a constitution and bylaws that was approved by the United States government meant that the form of government would probably have to be similar to that of the United States.
As the Pueblos were still living a more traditional lifestyle, this would have resulted in a shift in a way of life. Tribes operated on a basis of responsibility of everyone in the tribe, but there is a likelihood that the Secretary of the Interior would not have approved of a government that operated in this manner. After all, part of the Indian Reorganization Act was to assist in the assimilation of tribes into mainstream America. The Pueblo tribes probably did not have a desire to assimilate into the mainstream though.
This would be far too different from their traditional manner of living, and if their traditional values were held important to them, and life amongst each other was going well as was, this was probably seen as something that would not only be successful, but as something that was pointless. Economic and cultural concerns are two major issues that the IRA also impacted that could have swayed the Pueblo tribes not to agree with the IRA. For example education was highly impacted. Under the IRA, Indian students went to public schools coming in contact with white student and learning things other than their own culture.
In traditional Indian lifestyles, children were taught their language, the history of their people, and stories of the Great Creator and how he gave them the land that they resided on. Of course, this is very different than the curriculum in public, government-funded schools. The change in curriculum that Indian children were learning resulted in secularization of the daily lifestyle of Indian life. Traditional Indian living is based on spiritual beliefs, and similar to civilizations in the Eastern world, spirituality is life, not just a part of life.
This is of course very different of American culture, and in sending Indian students to public schools, such became the case for Indians tribes as well. These public schools did not teach the Indian languages or history, which has a huge impact on culture. If students are suddenly taken out of their home territory and mixed with students not of their own ethnicity they will automatically learn a lot about another culture but then their own is lost. Also relationships begin to flourish outside of one’s own ethnic group resulting in the miscegenation of races and a loss of culture.
Coming into contact with people in the mainstream culture also introduced traditional Indians to the concept of religion being a mere aspect of life, and for one who was very spiritual, this probably did not sit well at all. For the Pueblo tribes, the acquisition of American values were probably not worth the loss or watering down of their spiritual values. The IRA served to assist these tribes in assimilating into mainstream American society but if this was not a desire of the tribes they did not have a need to agree to the legislation.
This is probably one of the biggest reasons for resisting the Indian Reorganization Act. Also their economy would be hugely impacted. Under the IRA tribes could borrow money in order to acquire land and to build corporations. However this would mean that they would have to pay the money back to the U. S. government, which would require entering into another trust agreement. A trust agreement involving money with an untrustworthy partner is an extremely risky move because of all the possible outcomes. For example what if the Pueblo tribes could not afford to pay the government back in the original agreed upon time frame?
Would the government come in and take everything that they gave the tribes plus more for interest? Borrowing money also typically includes some sort of interest payment. If the Pueblo tribes remained on their own with their main source of revenue being money that the members of the tribe contributed as a form of responsibility (the tribe was still operating on the basis of a society based on responsibility versus one of rights) then they would not have to pay anyone back and they would do what they could with what they had instead of trying to work on a credit system.
This is just another aspect of American life that was not common in traditional Indian lifestyle, and probably did not make sense. After all, when you add interest to the base amount of money borrowed, most items actually do not equal the value of what you end up paying. The Pueblo tribes probably viewed this system as having to pay more to do something that they did not view as being necessary anyway. Operating within the Indian Reorganization Act land could be purchased back from the government but in reality the majority of the lands being bought “back” were never the government’s to sell.
Much of this land was the land leftover from allotment where leftover land was taken into government possession and/or sold to American citizens. However Indian tribes typically carry the belief that land is not man’s to buy or sell but the Creator gave it to them. These land issues then interweave with cultural issues. By entering an agreement with the government to buy and/or sell land they essentially are disrespecting the Great Creator and the sacredness of the land. Also much of the land was in their view disrespected by those who owned the land prior to the tribes buying it back.
Not only this but operating as a reservation under the IRA meant abiding by regulations put on their land by someone else which is another method of stripping them of full sovereignty. If these tribes lived on their own lands whether divided up from allotment or all together they could make their own regulations without having to check in to someone above them who does not have the best interest of the tribe’s culture in mind. Not only does the issue of land raise cultural issues but once again trust issues because of the way the government unjustly took the land that they were selling.
This is also essentially taking money from the tribes that could go towards the cultivation of the land that they had already been living on. The Pueblo tribes had many justified reasons for not wanting to enter into agreement with the federal government but they eventually agreed to abide by the act in 1965. This is probably because the tribes saw the interactions between the government and other tribes that had previously agreed to abide by the IRA. Also agreeing to abide by this legislation meant additional funding and more opportunities for the Indians living in this tribe.
This became increasingly necessary as society progressed regular American expectations rose and cost of living became higher as time went on. I believe that the Pueblo Indians were trying their best to preserve their culture and tribe and that they agreed to the IRA at a perfect time. They received the benefits that allowed their people to become educated and stronger and now in a time of need their citizens can protect and defend their culture land and people.