Indians in the United States and Canada: A Comparative History

By Roger L. Nichols | Go to book overview

9 Surviving Marginalization, 1890s-1920

writing about american mistreatment of Indians in the early twentieth century, the Lakota author Luther Standing Bear described reservations as places where "people were herded under every possible disadvantage and obstruction to progress until the race should pass out from sheer physical depletion." 1 In many ways this was true in both Canada and the United States as practices became more alike on both sides of the border. Certainly by the early twentieth century native peoples often came to be seen by whites as insignificant in each country. Indians themselves seemed to have ever fewer avenues for initiatives open to them.

Reserves and reservations segregated the tribal people. Boarding schools disrupted family relations, damaged culture and language, trained Indian students for nonexistent jobs, and mixed young people from various tribes together. Many groups ignored or resisted white efforts to destroy their culture or to prohibit important social or religious practices. Yet while facing these government pressures, reservation communities often turned inward for strength and found increased cultural awareness. Some adopted white practices. In western Canada, for example, Indians joined trade unions to gain a larger say in their own economic life. By the 1920s regional and provincial organizations of native people had developed there, while in the United States the Society of American Indians functioned as a pantribal group at the same time.

Continuing pressures on Indians to surrender more of their tribal lands and resources occurred in both nations. Although World War I brought some oppor-

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