Federal Fathers & Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933

By Cathleen D. Cahill | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Essie Horne, a Shoshone teacher in the Indian Service, remembered the coming of the Indian New Deal with great enthusiasm. “Those days were so exciting!” she wrote. “Finally, we no longer had to hide the fact that we were incorporating our cultural values into the curriculum and student life.” It is essential to note that what had changed for Horne was not her methods but the willingness of officials at the Office of Indian Affairs to accommodate and even celebrate Native traditions. Indeed, during the 1930s, the Indian Office commended Horne for her pedagogy and appointed her to be a “Demonstration Teacher in Elementary Education and Indian Lore” at summer teaching institutes.1 Horne’s account reminds us that personnel played a key role in the implementation of federal policy, often according to their own agendas. Her story also suggests how the Indian Office’s employment of thousands of Native people compels us to reinterpret the changes of the Indian New Deal as part of a much longer and less visible period of resistance by Native workers in the Indian Service. This should encourage us, in turn, to interpret federal policy more broadly by paying close attention to the people who actually carried it out “on the ground.”

Our knowledge of the Indian New Deal generally focuses on John Collier, the commissioner of Indian affairs who set much of the legislative agenda into motion.2 Collier’s administration did enact major changes to federal Indian policy by introducing an emphasis on cultural relativism and a willingness to celebrate “traditional” Native ways of life. But there were also continuities with earlier policies, particularly the Indian Office’s tendency toward paternalism and essentialist thinking about Indigenous cultures.3 The centerpiece of the Indian New Deal was the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act) in 1934. The act had three substantive components. The first repealed allotment, restored surplus reservation lands to tribal ownership, and set aside limited funds with which tribes could buy back land. This represented a dramatic shift in policy because it reversed the changes brought on by the Dawes Act of 1887, which had resulted in the

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