World War II
World War II brought major changes to the West and established new conditions for Native Americans which fundamentally affected their lives. The region made notable strides to escape its traditional dependence on export production and developed a permanent industrial base. Indians adjusted to the changed regional environment by leaving their reservations in large numbers to take wartime jobs or enter the military. The policy debate between John Collier and his western critics continued after 1941, but it became secondary to the wartime changes.
If any factor can be singled out for the transformation of the West from a colonial status to a more mature economic stage, it was wartime spending. Federal expenditures in the region between 1933 and 1939 amounted to $7,582,434,000. 1 Wartime spending, however, has been conservatively estimated at over $40 billion as the federal government established new factories and numerous military bases, training camps, and supply depots in the West. Important side effects of such expenditures included new jobs, improved markets for natural resources, and a general economic revival. West Coast urban centers experienced the most industrial development, and the interior, although affected, underwent much less change. 2
The most significant wartime change for Indians involved the increased demand for labor after 1939. Indians joined in the massive migration of workers from rural areas to industrial centers in the West. But new opportunities also developed in agriculture, lumbering, construction, railroad maintenance, and other fields that afforded unskilled or semi-skilled Indians with jobs. The first Indians to benefit from the new demand for labor were former enrollees in the Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division ( CCC-ID) or students completing vocational training at major boarding schools. Even before Pearl Harbor, Indians at Work, a CCC-ID publication, reported that Indian welders, machinists, and other skilled workers were winning jobs in war industries. Collier ordered that CCC-ID enrollees would receive most of the benefits from the National Defense Training Act of 1941. Graduates from the job training readily found jobs. 3
This initial trickle of private employment became a tide after Pearl Harbor.