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

By Cathleen D. Cahill | Go to book overview

9
An Old and Faithful Employee

THE FEDERAL EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT ACT
AND THE INDIAN SERVICE

The increased emphasis on professionalization and expertise by the Office of Indian Affairs in the early twentieth century created new expectations for employee qualifications. Administrators’ definition of what prepared someone to be a good Indian Service employee had changed. The new Progressive faith in training, expertise, and education clashed with the values of loyalty, mission, and self-sacrifice upon which the Indian Service had been built. This also reflected the shift between the personalized approach of the Gilded Age and the professionalized ethic of the Progressive Era. The split often occurred along generational lines and affected older employees, who were viewed as “nonprogressive” because they were not expertly trained or were physically less capable than they had been.

There were two main lines of thought about this new problem of “superannuated” personnel. On the one hand, administrators argued that these aging employees lacked the training, skills, and energy to do the important work of the Indian Service. On the other, their superiors recognized that longtime employees had faithfully served the government, sometimes for decades, and that this dedication to their jobs made them deserving of support from the Indian Office. While this problem mirrored similar concerns throughout the federal bureaucracy as the first generation of civil servants grew older, the language of loyalty and sacrifice held deeper sway in the Indian Office because it had been so central to the ideology of the Indian Service. Administrators tried to address this problem in two ways: first, through ad hoc

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