“…To improve the status of our first citizens”
Governor Douglas McKay, July14, 1950
This chapter reveals the actions by the State of Oregon in preparation for termination. Particular attention is paid to the actions and understandings of key political figures in the state such as the governor and the main senators involved in preparing the state offices for the termination of the reservations.
Parallel with the federal discussions of and preparations for termination the states had their individual preparations for an influx of thousands of Indian people into the state as citizens. For most tribes previous to the 1950s, their social services and administrative needs were almost completely managed by the federal government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The majority of Indians who lived on reservations did not pay many taxes for land or earned income, and many could not apply for state assistance for services. The majority of the education needs for reservations was provided by the Indian Office through reservation day schools and off-reservation boarding schools (Lomawaima 1994). As well, most reservation Indians were laborers and earned poverty-level wages or less. On reservations, state laws did not apply, and Indians were only subject to federal law.
For state government, the implications of thousands of Indians suddenly becoming citizens and subject to state laws, and taking advantage of state services including education, welfare, and labor were significant. Many of the reservations did not have sewage systems, running water, electricity, or well-maintained roads. The implications of this for states were that they would be inheriting a significant burden of having to give services to thousands of Indians, and to improve the remote rural communities’ needs for infrastructural development. For most states with Indian reservations, preparations began with the formation of state committees to discuss and make recommendations about what to prepare for. From 1947 and thereafter, the state committees participated in the governor’s interstate council consisting of 17 states containing tribal reservations.
This was in fact a primary concern for the 17 states. The fact that several thousand Indian would immediately become eligible for state services was to cost the states a number of economic and human resource problems. In California, many reservations and rancherias did not have basic services like running water, power, sewage, maintained roads, and/or telephone service. These services would immediately become the responsibility of the states, services that the Indian Office had not kept up on in their stewardship role. The impact on state budgets would be immense.
Parallel with the Federal activation for termination was a state-level discussion that involved at least 17 Governors of states with large Indian populations. The states represented were Minnesota, Arizona, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Washington, California, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, and Oregon. The 17 Governors established a Governors’ Interstate Council on Indian Affairs that met annually at conferences from the late 1940s and into the 1960s. The Governors and their appointed representatives to the Commission, discussed problems with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in their state and searched for good management models to ease the problem of thousands of Indians suddenly becoming disenfranchised by the Federal government. At the second meeting of the Council held in Salt Lake City on May 12, 1950, these goals were agreed on by all:
The goals from the Council show a willingness to begin addressing some of the issues of Indians Affairs within the states. The goals are very similar to what we see for the overall Indian management issues of the Indian Office and there is an urgency to study and understand Indian issues quickly. A certain naivety was apparent since the Governors seemed to think some of the long-term Indian problems could be “straightened out” or solved with a little effort on the part of the states, problems that a hundred years of Indian Office management had not yet solved. However the council served as a sounding board for annual meetings of state representative representing different state programs. The council continued into the 1960s.
Federal Indian management in Oregon was organized through the Portland Area Indian Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. From this office Indian Agents traveled to Indian reservations and initiated discussions about the possibilities or probabilities of termination. The main Indian Agent who visited and worked with the western Oregon tribes was E. Morgan Pryse during the 1940s and 1950s. Pryse attended most of the tribal meetings and interacted with all of the Oregon State departmental directors, from education, welfare, to employment and agriculture. Pryse also attended most of the Governor’s committee meetings, helping to provide much needed information to state department directors and managers who had no prior experience with Indian issues. Pryse was the primary coordinator between Oregon State and the federal government through most of the termination process. Pryse also attended many of the pre-termination hearings with Congress and organized the Oregon Indian speakers. In 1954, it was Pryse who spoke at the final hearing of the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act (P.L. 588) in 1954, offering the 1951 resolutions from Siletz and Grand Ronde as proof of their willingness to be terminated.
The termination era was being planned for by federal and state agencies well before the acts were passed. There was state agency coordination in Oregon, beginning with Governor Douglas McKay, who formed the Oregon State Committee on Indian Affairs (1947). On the Commission Governor McKay brought state and federal officials together to find some solution for the predicted influx of thousands of Indians into state programs. Committee members consisted of officials and experts, including Luther Cressman of the University of Oregon, Anthropology Department and departmental heads of state agencies, local government officials, and federal agents from throughout the state. The committee met regularly for nearly a decade to talk about what to do about the Indian problem in Oregon and to give advice to the Governor on what actions he must begin planning in support of the Indians (McKay 1950).
This advice from the committee members varied widely: Some thought that Indians were not prepared for termination and would immediately swell the ranks of the welfare poor and therefore should not be terminated immediately. Others thought that they were completely assimilated and would compete well with the people of Oregon. Of the many members on the committee, Harvey Wright, Indian Education Director, stands out as the most vocal. Harvey Wright proved to be understanding of the Oregon Indian issues and had this to say in 1950:
The only way we will rid ourselves of the so-called Indian problem in Oregon is for the state, the counties, and the local communities to accept all Indians as citizens and accord them the same rights, benefits, and privileges as other citizens. I think the Indians must be given full citizenship rights, and that they must assume the obligations and duties of full citizenship; furthermore it seems only logical to me that the federal government should subsidize the state of Oregon during this period of transition.
I am aware of the legalistic web of some 4,000 treaties and statutes and the thousands of judicial decisions and administrative rulings that enshroud the Indian. I am also aware that the Indian is a mythical legendary figure in the eyes of the public, alternatively pictured as a cruel, crafty, bloodthirsty savage, or as a poor, misguided, misunderstood aborigine whose culture must be preserved at all costs.
If the state of Oregon sees fit to explore the proposals discussed at this meeting, we must first find out where we want to go. Is the Indian capable of becoming a first class citizen? Is he capable of learning? Is he capable of handling his own affairs, or will he ever be capable of doing so? Can the state take care of all its citizens, or are the Indians special problems that must be handled by the federal government? Is segregation the answer?
If we are to accept the thesis that the Indian is a normal human being, then we must initiate a program that will eventually give him full citizenship and assimilate him into our society. However, I do not think that the Interstate Council on Indian Affairs should make any change in the status quo without the advice and counsel of the Indians. I know from experience that it will take a lot of tenacity and courage to carry such a program through. There will be some Indians that will fight such a program, some of the leeches hanging onto the present program will fight any change, and we always have our sentimentalists that want to preserve the Indian culture.
If we believe in the democracy to which we give lip service, if we believe in the principles on which our country was founded, then we must carefully consider the possibility of accepting the responsibility of all or our citizens.
Our national policy in Indian affairs has been a zig-zag affair. Our first policy was extermination; we then tried the idea of segregation; and the latest experiment was an attempt to get the Indian to return to the tribal autonomy that his fathers were presumed to enjoy, and to preserve his culture. To me the logic of present events is all in opposition to segregation. I believe that our final policy must be assimilation (McKay 1950).
Mr. Wright’s statement leaves little doubt that he well understands the situation of the Indians, and his words were honored by the Indians at the conference. But he also presents dramatic license in characterizing some Indians as “leeches” and therefore some of the statements are to be questioned, since no one knew at this point what would happen to the Indians at termination. Mr. Wright ultimately is an advocate for termination.
By 1956 the BIA had formed an agreement with Oregon State Department of Education to provide education and training opportunities to the Indians to be terminated. The Bureau of Affairs worked with the State of Oregon Department of Education to collaborate their services for relocation and education of tribal members to urban environments:
Under contract with Oregon State Department of Education for special adult education and training a total of 71 persons [throughout western Oregon] entered training of whom 53 have stayed in training and have finished or will be finished by October, 1956. Approximately 16 have been placed in jobs as a result of the training program and others are in the process of placement
Funds to permit completion of studies by October 1956 have been obligated by the State Department of Education prior to terminal date.
Under the Bureau relocation program with vocational training 101 persons accepted relocation and entered training. 81 of these have finished their training and are employed or are still in training. A total of 255 individuals (including family members) were affected under the Bureau program.
Approximately one-fifth of the Western Oregon Indian people were benefited by special State program and the Bureau relocation program (Office 1956:8).
The program, managed by Harvey Wright was successful with the majority of its native participants.
Governor Douglas McKay as well as Senator Wayne Morse and Senator Richard L. Neuberger were the primary state officials who were in charge of Indian Affairs at the state level. In 1952, Governor Douglas McKay was in the midst of his second term as governor. He had promised to serve the full six years, but instead accepted the position of Secretary of the Interior offered to him by President Eisenhower. Secretary McKay was in a position to use much of the information he had received about the Oregon tribes as Secretary of the Interior, and following his insertion as Secretary, preparations for termination continued unabated. Afterward, Secretary McKay led the government’s policy of termination of Indian reservations through the next few years and used the termination of the Oregon tribes as a positive example of termination for the rest of the nation.
Political officials in the state of Oregon played a large role in the liquidation of state Indian reservations. Senators, representatives, mayors, attorneys, state departmental directors, and the Governor’s office, all worked with the issue of termination in committee meetings, and in discussions with the tribes. E. Morgan Pryse, BIA Supervisor of Indian Affairs for the Portland Area office was also a member of the committee. Governor McKay opened the initial conference July 14, 1950 with this list of discussion topics and/or goals:
(a) Bring about the early and equitable settlement of Indian treaties
(b) Accomplish the social and economic rehabilitation of Indians with emphasis upon the initiative and self-reliance of the Indian himself
(c) Equip Indians for living with and in our American culture through education and training
(d) Encourage Indians to preserve, as individuals, their best traditions as an integral part of American life
(e) Bring an early end to federal wardship, with adequate federal aid in the interim (McKay 1950).
The topics clearly followed the previous goals of the federal government to bring about an efficient termination to the tribes. One goal in particular, that of (d) to preserve their traditons, stands out as it is different from that proposed by Congress. The Congressional goal was to assimilate Indians, and not to retain native traditions.
Goal (a), the “equitable settlement of Indian treaties” is similar to a goal of the Ten-Year Programs (Affairs and Agency 1944) meant to forever settle Indian land claims. There was likely some collusion between Governor McKay and Indian Agent Pryse over some of these goals, since the settlement of Indian treaties was beyond the jurisdiction of the states to settle, and the Oregon treaties were established with the federal government. Letters from E. Morgan Pryse to Governor McKay clearly indicate that there were ongoing meetings between the two, even before the creation of the Indian Affairs committee. In one such letter Pryse summarizes their discussion on Oregon Indians and thanks Governor McKay for coming to an agreement over the Indian problems:
I was especially gratified for the opportunity to visit with you on March 22 to discuss problems to the Indians in yours state. I am very pleased that you agree on a mutual approach to the solution of Indian problems since I firmly believe that it is only through combined efforts that solutions may be obtained which will be beneficial to the Indians, the federal government, and the State of Oregon (Pryse 1950).
Governor McKay’s collusion with the Indian Office is not unexpected, but presents an image of McKay’s deep connection with federal Indian policy well before his appointment as Secretary of the Interior in 1952. It is clear from the similarity of goals for Indian management and termination that Governor McKay was influenced by the Indian Office.
The testimonials of the 1940s and 1950s support an assumption that termination of the western Oregon Indians was purely a politically expedient solution to the economic problems of the government. However, termination of the western Oregon Indian did not solve any problems, since these people were not causing overwhelming costs to the government for funds or administration, nor did they possess quantities of valuable natural resources. The termination of the western Oregon Indians only satisfied the desires of a few public officials–senators, congressmen, and in particular, Secretary McKay, who settled for the temporary appearance of a solution.
The National Congress of American Indians began to activate against termination in the 1940s and 50s. For the tribes of western Oregon, with few resources for their defense, the activation came too late, as 60 tribes were terminated in one Congressional bill, the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act (Congress 1954b). Altogether, at least 63 tribes in Oregon were terminated under two bills, more tribes than in any other state in the union (Congress 1954a; 1954b). The total number of tribes terminated was 109 tribes throughout the United States (Fixico 1986).
In 1950, Indian people in Oregon participated in a state-level Indian affairs conference organized by Governor Douglas McKay. Discussions about termination at the state level had to wait until the State of Oregon and the tribes discussed how their relationship would evolve. The State of Oregon had never managed Indian people, much less a population of thousands. The not-too-distant past for Indian management in Oregon (1849-1859) included warfare between the settlers and the Indians in several regions of Oregon. Exclusion laws for Indians still existed in Oregon into the 1950s. The exclusion laws in Oregon consisted of a prohibition against Indians buying alcohol, and a law banning Indians from marrying whites (Berg 2007). Despite the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act which supposedly made every Indian a U.S. citizen, exclusion laws were not an uncommon situation in the United States as many states still had these laws on the books.
Governor McKay made an important opening statement that brought the subject of Oregon’s exclusion laws to the forefront:
We are proud of our Indians and, if there is anything the state of Oregon can do to improve the status of our first citizens, I think we should give it every consideration. We have no preconceived ideas of what should be done, if anything. We have no political axes to grind – our only purpose today is to make a fair and honest appraisal of the status of the Indian in our state and to explore the possibility of cooperating with all existing agencies to give the Indian a full and equal citizenship status that has been so long delayed and so justly deserved (McKay 1950).
The irony of Governor McKay’s statement is readily pointed out by several Tribal representatives at the meeting:
Boyd Jackson- In regard to treaty settlements and hodge-podge laws- I am glad this came up. It gives me a chance to bring before you gentlemen the problems and standing of the Klamath Indians. It seems strange that the state should make such an assertion. Inasmuch as the state has seen fit to have a law passed prohibiting use of liquor among ourselves, then I hope you will be farsighted enough to have this law repealed. That is one of the major reasons we consider ourselves outcasts. It does not seem to be the practical procedure to immediately release the Indians from the reservation as we will experience considerable difficulties and we need a period to become adjusted. You have also discriminated against us by prohibiting intermarriage among your people. We have to take other means to evade this law. This creates lines of thought other than what the law was designed for. The same holds true as far as the prohibition law is concerned; it causes us to be dodgers of the law instead of citizens in order to benefit or get what we want. Do you think this is the fair thing to do? Can you without violating the law take me into a bar and say ‘let’s have a drink? (McKay 1950).
There had been exclusion laws passed by the state since its inception. As the above states, we see the results of that lack of cooperation. Indian peoples are not allowed to live a “free” and American lifestyle in Oregon because they cannot buy liquor like any other men or women, and they are not allowed to legally marry white people. These exclusionary and discriminatory policies and laws certainly place Indians in a different social category from whites. Therefore, the prospect of Indians being taken care of by the state did not appeal to the tribes.
Boyd Jackson’s statements regarding exclusion are supported by Abe Hudson from Grand Ronde, who adds additional issues:
Abe Hudson- A law has been enacted in Congress that an Indian cannot buy a drink. It is one thing I don’t like – there isn’t an Indian here that likes it either – that an Indian cannot go into a saloon like a white man, yet they want to make us white men. I don’t blame some of the Indians for not wanting to join the state because we are being discriminated against; we don’t come up to par with the whites.” Mr. Hudson mentioned several instances where Indians were denied liability insurance for their automobiles and several places at The Dalles where Indians are not allowed (McKay 1950).
Abe Hudson adds several other discrimination issues that related more generally to societal discrimination rather than that supported by state laws. However, these were important issues which may have influenced Indians to vote for termination so that they may be freed from the burden of discrimination because of their Indian status.
Mr. Burke, from Umatilla adds his experiences related to the ill treatment of Indian war veterans:
Mr. R. J. Burke, representative of the Umatilla Reservation… In the armed forces we had over 200 Indian boys drafted – when they came back from the war they were denied G.I. loans and other benefits because they had lived on a reservation (McKay 1950).
Indian men in WWII received much publicity for their contribution to the war effort. The Indian Office used this publicity to its advantage when applying for new budgets every year. Yet, when Indian men returned from duty they were discriminated against by both federal and state systems. It was not enough that they served the country.
These subjects were a surprise to Governor McKay who stated his ignorance of such laws: “…he was not aware of a law prohibiting intermarriage of Indians and whites and that this would be investigated prior to the 1951 legislature” (McKay 1950). These important statements by tribal representatives provided the foundation for future meaningful discussions within the committee. These were issues that Indians had never addressed before to the State as they had always been managed by the Federal government. Oregon State had nearly no responsibility over Indians.
Related to the exclusion issues is the matter of the state having very little relationship with the tribes. Jackson speaks to this issue:
Boyd Jackson- As far as a more workable relationship between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and our state being established, I did not know that such a relationship existed other than in connection with our schools…
He felt that this conference was timely and something that should have been brought about years ago. He stated: the Indian problem has been dangling here before the National Government over 100 years and still remains a problem. Members of Congress have expressed deep concern as to how this problem should be answered. Although we are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the population of this country, evidently we are quite a problem. The treaty made between the Klamath Indians and the U. S. Government in 1864 has been kicked full of holes throughout the years (McKay 1950).
It is incredible to think that the state of Oregon had been in existence for almost 100 years and the Indians and the state had almost no relationship. This would make it difficult to find workable solution for assimilation of Indian people into American society.
The statement above refers to the fact that tribes were promised permanent land allotments through treaties. However, their reservations were diminished repeatedly through Executive Orders and through legislation like the Dawes Severalty Act (1887). The Dawes Act served to eliminate Indian people from their rightful inheritance by firmly establishing a one-half blood Indian quantum requirement for Indians to gain an allotment of land. This changed the dynamic of Indian communities by casting many descendants with lesser quantum from the community. Additionally, original treaty rights of the people and responsibilities of the government were not followed, leading to poverty conditions. This is the reason that Indian Claims lawsuits were filed in the early twentieth century and many were won by the tribes in the Indian Court of Claims.
The “Indian problem” is a well known issue to federal officials. The Indian problem is in fact a number of problems for which the federal government had little or no solutions. Indian people were the poorest ethnic group in the United States, yet had more legal rights than most ethnic groups. Therefore, the problem lies in the fact that they were poor because the federal government did not honor their responsibilities to the Indians. In fact the Indian Office and Congress, at times, made their situations worse. One of the effects of their poverty was extremely poor health. Jackson addresses health and welfare issues:
Boyd Jackson- In regard to the transfer of health and welfare – on my reservation we have had the problem of health. Our hospital has been closed and we have been unable to reopen it. We have attempted to work out some ways or means whereby some other hospital organization might take over but as yet have not found an organization. We have not appealed to the state for help but now that the matter of health has been tossed before this conference, I feel I should put it before you in that light (McKay 1950).
Jackson is revealing the health problems of American Indians, since Indian health are is the worst in the country and Indians have the shortest life spans of any race in the country. Oregon tribes were struggling with health issues from the inception of the reservations, and suffered with a very high mortality rate. Out of the estimated 1000 Indians that first came to Grand Ronde in 1856 there were about 300 living on the reservation at the turn of the century. Lack of access to medicine, doctors, and health care were big reasons for the declining populations.
Education is another part of the “Indian problem.” Education was one means by which the federal government sought to assimilate Indians. But the education system only provided training in areas that would lead Indians into manual and menial labor. The issue of education remains a mainstay in tribal politics. Tribal organizations know that they need to have an informed and educated population to help the tribes in the United States to survive in the political system. Yet, it is obvious that the reservations were not getting adequate funding, a point that was brought up by William Zimmerman in the 1947 Civil Service Committee hearings (Senate 1947). Here in 1950 several tribes voice their frustration with the education system:
Mr. Sam Kash Kash, member of the board of trustees at Pendleton …
In order for the Indian to get any place in this state he has to have an education. There should be a law to educate the white people so they would know that Indians are human. I can speak well of Umatilla County, and the public schools have taken care of our children very nicely. I know from experience, as I have a daughter attending school there. Several children on the reservation have not been able to continue school because of lack of funds.
Mr. [Coquelle] Thompson said he would speak on behalf of the 20 some tribes of the Siletz Reservation. He stated that he was a graduate of Oregon State College in 1932 and since that time has been a teacher in the field and had also worked on the board at Chemawa as supervisor. He said he had been chairman over there for the confederated tribes for some 15 years. All this discussion that has gone on is not news to our group – we have gone through this. The question of law and order is practically nit in our locality. We have a choice or sending our children to Chemawa or to the public schools. I find that the majority of the people are sending their children to public schools. I cannot say that we are overburdened with juvenile delinquency in our part of the country – it is of normal occurrence. As long as we have to maintain Indian reservations we are going to have various people segregated and we will always have problems that we have today. People that are segregated are bound to be a little different. At one of our tribal meetings hunting and fishing rights were discussed – one man stated: ‘now if we are going to be assimilated and become full citizens of the United States we would just as soon pay for our fishing and hunting license and fish and hunt in season’. The majority of the discussion today from you men from the reservation has more or less been part of our past experience in the Siletz Reservation. I believe that in another 40 or 50 years there will not be a full-blooded Indian on the Reservation (McKay 1950).
Coquelle Thompson, an elder from Siletz, dips into the subject of segregation and is advocating for full assimilation out of practical need. Since there will not be any full-blooded Indians on the reservation there is no need to continue with the reservation. Mr. Thompson is not alone in this opinion as Abe Hudson, an elder from Grand Ronde, mirrored it:
Mr. [Abe] Hudson from Salem stated that he came as a listener but since he has been given the privilege to say a few words he would. I have been working for the state for almost four years. I have been affiliated with my tribe of people from Grand Ronde all the time I have been away. I have always attended the meetings there at the Siletz Agency. When the Wheeler-Howard Act was first introduced at Grand Ronde I boosted for it very much because I thought this plan would be much help to the Indians at Grand Ronde. At a meeting held sometime ago these words were spoken: ‘ Well, I tell you, my folks, I am getting old and I don’t know where I stand, I don’t know what I am – they call me an Indian and I guess I am an Indian but I really don’t know. We have a government controlling us and we have a state controlling us, and if we are going to be wards of the government I don’t want to be like a gray squirrel.’ This meeting today reminds me of that. If we are going to be like the white man we either must do like he does or be wards of the government. If you want to be a ward of the government, be it – if you want to be a citizen, be it. The government is taking care of the younger Indians and the older ones. While on the other hand, if the majority rules that we should be under the government, they are going to hurt the ones who want to advance. As far as our schools are concerned the Grand Ronde Indians have been self-supporting for some years. I was a member of the tribal council when this thing started. We have the privilege of sending our children to Chemawa if we want to but most of us are taking the advantage of sending them to the public schools (McKay 1950).
One of the questions for Mr. Thompson and Mr. Hudson is familiar: what makes an Indian? Mr. Hudson appears to want full control of his life and to escape from the situation that reservation Indian dislike so intensely: being wards of the government. Mr. Hudson wants to send children to public school because the Indian Office has not been of service to his tribe. This thought is similar to that of Mr. Thompson who stated on behalf of the Siletz that they would rather be free from government control and pay for their own hunting and fishing licenses than have that right be the only benefit of being Indian.
Discussion was also made regarding how well the Indians had already assimilated. A prevailing notion of Indian reservations is that all services were paid for by the federal government. However, in western Oregon the tribes relied on few services from the Office of Indian Affairs:
Mr. La France of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Portland supplemented Mr. Thompson’s statements in regard to Grand Ronde. He stated that there were ten Indian trust allotments on the Grand Ronde Reservation with a small tract of timber. They have been assimilated into the local agency in regard to health and law enforcement. The Indians in this part of the coastal area have caused us little trouble in regard to their affairs. Most of them own their own property and pay taxes like everyone else (McKay 1950).
This is an interesting point as it establishes that the Grand Ronde Indians were not costing the Indian Office much in the way of management. They are well assimilated and do not need much from the government. Termination for the western Oregon tribes would not be much different from how they were already living, or so it seemed.
The Indians knew well the impact of the loss of federal services. Even before PL 280 was passed, making state law the prevailing law on some reservations, they were thinking about how this would work. The transfer of the criminal and civil jurisdiction to the state is a significant impact on sovereignty rights for tribes:
Boyd Jackson- Should there be a transfer of all law enforcement activities to state jurisdiction? That is another problem which has been before Congress for a number of years. It has created a lot of thought as to how to cope with this problem. It has held and maintained that we are lacking in jurisdiction – so long as that lack remains our problems continue to carry on. It is one of the problems that needs immediate concern on the part of the state and federal governments. I believe in turning law enforcement over to the state. Our plans are such that we intend to continue as a reservation setup, and legal problems will crop up; things we can control we will, and things that are too deep for us I think new should be able to pass along to the state (McKay 1950).
Interestingly enough, the very fact that the Federal government, from the creation of the Oregon reservations in 1856, had poorly supported both Grand Ronde and Siletz agencies, forced the Indians to find alternative means of making a living in society. Yet, even though Grand Ronde and Siletz tribal members had assimilated to an American lifestyle, they were still being discriminated against by employers, and under state laws. This is likely why termination as a concept was at least acceptable enough to continue having discussions about it. The apparent result of termination would be treatment that is equal in American society. The willingness to continue to talk about termination and about the state taking over Indian services and law enforcement offers the possibility of better services for the Indian communities, which gradually wore away at most opposition to termination. The rhetoric of freedom to people living in a racist socio-political environment can be attractive to those searching for solutions to their problems.
The concept of self-supporting seems central to the question of termination. Congress is concerned whether the Indian people are self-supporting. While the Indian people freely admit that, they are self-supporting. Mr. Crawford stated in 1947 that the Klamath people did not use the Indian services and in 1950, Abe Hudson said the same for Grand Ronde. This information begs the question of why the tribes were essentially on their own with few services from the government. Is it that the Indian Office has not been providing services that they should have been providing for years, while making Indian peoples fend for themselves for several generations? This may be what was occurring at the time. Statements by contemporary elders at Grand Ronde, who have questioned the services they were getting in the 1950s, say that they did not get services (Lewis 2006). Regardless, if this is the case, then the Grand Ronde Tribe was not costing the government all that much to maintain their status. Grand Ronde did not need all of the “management” and supervision of the Indian Office to run their own affairs. Therefore, for at least for the Grand Ronde tribe, their termination did not reduce much of the economic burdens of the Federal government that the House Committee on Civil Service was determined to reduce (1947).
In the state’s perspective, the issue was that the Native people, when terminated, would lose their federal assistance programs and would then come under the oversight of the state’s services. Many indicators in the tribal reservations pointed to the fact that most of the Natives were not ready for termination as they had been heavily supported with federal service programs and they had never had to pay taxes and had never competed with Americans without federal assistance (Peroff 1982). This understanding of the Oregon tribes’ assimilation status was contrary to the position taken by William Zimmerman and his list of ten assimilated tribes (Brophy 1947; Peroff 1982). The leaders at the state level were concerned about the thousands of Natives that were to come under full state support, mainly welfare, food stamps, education, and job assistance programs.
There are problems with terminating in this manner. It may have been the case that the western Oregon tribes were able to handle their own affairs, but it is not apparent that most tribal members were also able to handle their own affairs. The tribal members partially assimilated, but many remained dependant on their rights from treaties, and the protections from their federal status and a sudden change in their status would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by American society. A large number of tribal members were losing their lands as part of termination. This event would immediately impoverish them and force them to seek a new place to live and a new work environment. They would be similar to new immigrants to the United States and have to re-establish themselves all over again. Most of the work of their lives, and that of their ancestors of improving their farms, and growing their herds, planting their gardens would be nearly useless without a owning their own farm. And for those who had the resources to retain their land, they were vulnerable to losing their lands through taxes laws and a general unfamiliarity with such matters in American society.
In the midst of the termination discussions were the Oregon Senators Wayne Morse and Richard Neuberger. While not centrally part of the discussion, the senators sought ways to help improve the Oregon economy. In the 1950’s timber revenues in Oregon were on the decline. Some of the last untouched timber was on reservation lands, especially a million acres of ponderosa pine on the Klamath Reservation. The senators were extremely active in working locally in Klamath Falls and throughout the state on timber issues attempting to establish a plan to exploiting these resources.
Parallel with the logging issues were those around water resources. While fighting for dams on the Columbia with the tribes, other water resources, like the Klamath River were being earmarked for exploitation. The previously formed California-Oregon Power Company had established a plan for an interstate power network to transfer the power of Oregon’s rivers to California. In order to accomplish the plan, several power generating dams had to be built on the major rivers. In California there was a great need for increased power resources as it was a growing economy. Therefore in the 1950s plans for irrigation projects went into high gear. The most contentious was the Dalles Dam, which inundated the incredible Indian fishery at Celilo Falls behind the dam. But the Klamath River also was a significant prize and it was mostly owned by the Oregon and California tribes that had Indian reservations on the river.
Termination would then be a solution to the logging, water resources and power issues of the time. Propelled by a need to gain unrestricted access to the river and timberlands, the Oregon Senators set about aiding the negotiations with the tribes and the local communities. The Klamath tribe was terminated in 1961, and conveniently on the heels of termination, several dams were built on the river to produce power and manage the water.
The issue for western Oregon is somewhat different. The tribes in western Oregon did not own significant timber or water resources. This issue here was that the western Oregon tribes had traditional aboriginal claims to all of western Oregon. Many of these aboriginal land claims were not fully settled by 1950. These tribes had also proved to be a nuisance to federal authorities by producing successful Indian claims suits against the government. Therefore, the issue here may have been that the government still needed to terminate all claims to the tribes’ aboriginal land claims so that they would not be able to sue the government at some future date for impacting the fisheries in western Oregon rivers.
Many of the Indian claims were settled previous to termination, but there remains a question in the minds of some people whether the tribes still have aboriginal claims to land and resources that were never ceded by treaty. In some interpretations of Indian law, those rights and resources not specifically given away by treaty remains part of the aboriginal claims of the tribal descendants.
One of the most active government representatives from Oregon, Senator Wayne Morse, who was on the Indian Affairs committee, collected a surprising array of letters from native people through the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices. Most were asking for help in solving one problem or another, usually enrollment, rights following termination, or the settlement of court judgments. Senator Morse appeared to have little power to help Indians, and mainly conducted a little research, and sent a few letters to the BIA regarding a few situations. There were a number of letters from Indians documenting their attempts to enroll in one of the western Oregon tribes after final termination occurred in 1956. Senator Morse’s decisions were invariably to let the BIA handle the issues. Occasionally, in his responses, Senator Morse simply stated that nothing could be done, normally stated professionally with information from his legal staff reporting the outcome of their investigation. This was the case in Senator Morse’s correspondence with Prosper Picard (Morse 1959).
The letter below is a response from H. Rex Lee, Associate Commissioner of the Department of the Interior to Senator Wayne Morse in 1958 in response to Senator Morse’s query about a petition to add an Indian descendant to a tribal roll:
We appreciate the opportunity of commenting on the letter of April 14 (1958) from Frank Hartman which you referred to us on April 18. Mr. Hartman has written on behalf of his wife, a Rogue River Indian, regarding treaty rights and payment of taxes on allotted land.
This Bureau has endeavored to protect the rights of the Indians, and we are sorry to learn that Mrs. Hartman believes her rights as an Indian have not been respected. It is true that by Act of Congress, approved February 13, 1954 (68 Stat, 724), termination of Federal supervision over certain tribes of Indians, including the Rogue River Tribe, was authorized. All restrictions by the Federal Government on the sale or encumbrance of trust or restricted land owned by members of the tribes were removed two years after date of the act. The property and income therefore became subject to the same taxes, State and Federal, as in the case of non-Indians.
Plans to discontinue Federal supervision over the affairs of the tribes of Grand Ronde Reservation had been considered for some time. It was believed that these Indians had reached the point where they were able to assume responsibility for their own affairs. Members of the tribes had already experienced most of the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship, and for a long period of time had been accepted by their non-Indian neighbors on the same basis as other citizens and participated in civil affairs….
We hope that the information in this letter will explain to Mr. Hartman the reasons why it is necessary for his wife to pay taxes on her property. If he does have any further questions, it is suggested that he contact our Portland Area Office. The Grand Ronde Reservation was formerly under the jurisdiction of that office, and our staff there will be glad to discuss with him any matters relating to the Rogue River Tribe (Lee 1958).
The above letter is an answer to two issues of the time. First, termination is explained as having already passed for Rogue River Indians. Second, Mrs. Hartman’s rights as a Rogue River Indian, are simply referred to the BIA. It is unclear in this response whether Mrs. Hartman could have claimed rights under the Indian Claims settlements which were just ending, however the response from Lee is discouraging.
Individual letters like those above appear dismissible as isolated experiences of only a few people. However, the BIA office in Portland mentioned to Senator Morse that there were over 2,000 petitions from people asking for help enrolling with their tribe:
The Bureau of Indian Affairs have informed me that they have received approximately 2,000 appeals from claimants attempting to establish membership in the six groups of tribes in Oregon… (Lee 1958).
The most significant of these petitions were answered and investigated by Senator Morse or referred to another agency. All of these petitions were denied, likely disenfranchising thousands of natives forever from tribal rolls. In the 1970s and 1980s with the restoration of the tribes, the base rolls were created from the termination rolls of the 1950s. Those people denied their petition to join the termination rolls and their descendants will probably never be eligible to enroll in a tribe. This is an ongoing enrollment issue which will take generations to unravel.
From the beginning of termination discussions, the termination of thousands of Indians was foreseen to cause a significant burden on the individual states. For over a century the Indian Office was tasked by treaty rights with the welfare of the Indians on the reservations. The Indian Office never had enough resources to keep Indians living in the same fashion as average Americans with adequate water, power, and other public services. Therefore, many reservations were not equipped with what by the 1950s was considered the basic essential public services for Americans. The states knew about these problems and understood that they would be burdened in the future with massive construction and development projects to supply the former reservation with all public services. The states tried to organize around and manage the impending burden through state-level Indian Affairs committee meetings and through their Congressmen by providing opinions to the federal government during the termination process.
In 1952, PL 280 was passed by Congress. This law allowed tribes to accept state law enforcement on their reservation. Most reservations did not accept the law and saw it as a degradation of their sovereignty to accept state law on the reservation. However, both Grand Ronde and Siletz accepted the change of jurisdiction. The State of Oregon took over criminal and civil manners on the two western Oregon reservations. PL 280 is viewed by many as one of the first steps in terminating the tribes.
It was foreseen that the states would become burdened with funding and management of all of the reservation schools and the sudden placement of thousands of new clients in the social welfare system. In Oregon, what was most feared, occurred; the sudden placement of thousands of Indians into school systems and into social service programs. This influx of new clients for state services caused a great burden on the state programs.
Despite the preparations of the Governor’s Indian Affairs committee, the Oregon State Welfare Office in November 1954 called for additional help in a memo stating: “We are going out of business at Western Oregon.” The office was inundated with new cases and claims being generated from the former reservation communities and the other terminated Indians in the southwestern portion of the state (Holm 1954).
Termination policy of the federal government remained in effect well into the 1970s. few individual tribes were terminated after 1961. The issue of the burden on states became a significant barrier to states approving of the termination of the tribes within their borders. In 1954, Oregon State government approved of termination to a wide degree. This helped the federal government carry through its policy. But as termination commenced and reports of the impact on the tribes and the states surfaced, other states were reticent to approve of termination.
Oregon State preparation for termination commenced early in the discussions on termination, but first the state government had to establish a relationship with the tribes. Termination was seen to be a significant boon to the state as natural resources would be freed to help the local economy. However, the state needed to rectify a few discriminatory laws in order to make termination more attractive. The most organized of the state’s preparations was that of education. Under Harvey Wright, many Indians entered education and training programs and were successful. Termination was not a seamless affair as many Indians entered the welfare rolls immediately.
Likely the most significant issue with the state was the timber resources of the tribes. Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay’s connections with logging companies (Fixico 1998), and the desires of the states senators to help the economy made the Klamath timberlands and other western Oregon timberlands a target.
Likely the greatest impact on the tribes’ culture was the success of the program of assimilation in Oregon. The collaboration between the BIA and the State took Indian families off of the former reservations and into the cities to live permanently. The combination of the federal relocation program and the state’s education programs proved to be particularly effective.
In the 1970’s the Oregon tribes began fighting for restoration of their federal status. Indian culture in western Oregon had declined and western Oregon Indians were thought to have gone extinct by many people. George Wasson called this phenomenon in reference to its expression in ethnological literature “The Cultural Black Hole” (Wasson 1994). Western Oregon native identity during this era, 1956-1977, was open for question as many people turned to pan-Indianism. Many terminated Indian people lost the knowledge of who they were, what their history was, and once realizing this, began the process of restoration of their traditional culture.
Termination was a terrible experiment with over sixty tribes in Oregon. The loss of human culture and experience is incalculable and may be one of the most terrible experiments with human culture in United States history. The tribes who were terminated are working to restore much of what was once thought lost. The effects of termination are related to every significant political, economic and social issues at the former terminated tribes and will be felt for many decades to come.
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1954a The Klamath Reservation Termination Act. In PL. U.S. Congress, ed. Washington, D.C.: GPO.
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1950 Report on the Interstate Council on Indian Affairs held at Salt Lake City, May 12, 1950 In Governor Douglas McKay Collection. Salem: Oregon State Archives.
 Douglas McKay owned a car dealership in Salem previous to being the Governor.
 My own theory based on the evidence.
 There were several of these letters in the Morse Collection. Morse apparently created a form letter to send to petitioners because this was a common appeal.