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

By Cathleen D. Cahill | Go to book overview

7
The Hoopa Valley Reservation

The Office of Indian Affairs administered scores of reservations across the country, attempting to force them along a single path toward assimilation, but each of these local places had its own history, context, and culture(s) that complicated the Indian Service’s efforts. Understanding the ways many Native people used Indian Service employment in order to navigate larger economic transformations requires a close look at the local context of individual reservations. The last few chapters have offered a bird’s-eye view of the system of agencies and schools that were tied together by the Indian Office bureaucracy and the movement of employees through the system. This chapter focuses on one reservation—Hoopa Valley in Northern California—in order to demonstrate how federal employment played out at the local level and within specific regional circumstances.

We might begin this inquiry by citing a remarkable statistic from Hoopa Valley: in 1888 more than a quarter of Hupa men over the age of eighteen were working for the Indian Service.1 This reveals the local meaning of a striking fact about Native labor in the Indian Service: temporary workers massively outnumbered permanent, regular employees. In 1912, for example, the commissioner of Indian affairs reported that the service employed 2,516 Indians in regular positions; but it had also hired an astonishing 12,420 Indians as temporary employees.2 While Native people employed in regular positions had greater opportunity to modify or attenuate the impact of federal policy, most Indian people experienced work in the service as temporary laborers on their own reservations. Looking at Hoopa Valley shows how Hupa people devised labor strategies that allowed them to sustain themselves economically while simultaneously fighting to safeguard their culture.

Given the ideological importance of work in assimilation policy and the high participation in the labor force by Hupa people, policy makers surely

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