The Postwar Era,
The postwar years, 1945 to 1961, brought changes to the West and presented serious threats to Indians. A conservative reaction characterized much of the Indian legislation as Congress tried to reverse New Deal policies and "free" the Indians from federal control. Although land losses increased after the war, Indians' more basic problems dealt with the construction of dams and other projects that reflected white interests. Postwar opportunities, both in the West and nationally, caused thousands of Indians to move to cities. The reservations, because of improved transportation and greater access to media, lost much of their isolation. Finally, trends started during the New Deal and World War II accelerated.
Although pockets of the West's traditional economy remained, two basic changes occurred in the region during the postwar era. First, the areas of greatest population increase, California and the Southwest, significantly increased their political influence at the national level, and, second, economic growth in the more populous states broke many earlier restraints. Federal spending was central to both changes. Highway construction after 1945, for example, brought money into the West and eased severe transportation problems. On the Columbia, Snake, and Missouri Rivers, the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation built numerous multipurpose dams aimed at electric power generation, flood control, irrigation, and navigation. The completion of the massive irrigation works in central Washington with water from the Grand Coulee Dam in the mid-1950s was particularly important. 1 Federal spending associated with the cold war and the Korean conflict fueled growth in aerospace and electronics. Military installations continued to enrich many communities. Federal expenditures in the West between 1945 and 1960 have been estimated at $150 billion. 2
The economic successes of the West proved to be a double-edged sword for Indians. While many welcomed the off-reservation employment and lessened isolation, they often found adjustment to the postwar environment difficult. Agricultural mechanization reduced seasonal employment Indians formerly enjoyed, and regional development projects sometimes jeopardized their rights and economic prospects.