Lewis 2008, Termination of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Chapter 7

Lewis, David, Termination of the Confederated tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Dissertation, 2008. (Pre-final draft, 2007)

Chapter 7

Justification for Termination



[the] real issue. A violent action was in process, an action directed from the outside against the tribe. The action was designed to kill … the Indian’s past, by shattering the bridge of tribal land and tribal religion which united past and future – the bridge on which the deathless two-way journey plied from living past to living future, living future to living past. John Collier, on the Gleaming way (1962)


The act of termination of Indian reservations was approached carefully with over 10 years of preparation and discussion by Congress. During this time many reasons for why termination was politically desirable became part of the discussion and were critical   in convincing tribal members and Congress to approve termination. Many of the justifications were based on little information or erroneous understandings of tribal reservations.



During the 1940s Congress needed to reduce government spending. Tribal reservations and the Office of Indian Affairs appeared too many politicians like a waste of federal funding as the $40 million was only benefiting about 300,000 Indians. This expenditure appeared to be never ending and efforts by the Indian Office over the past 100 years had done little to solve the “Indian Problems.”

The House of Representatives sought a solution to these problems and conducted their own investigation and concluded that it was the Indian Office that had impoverished Indians and caused many of the problems (Affairs and Representatives 1945). Congress then sought a final solution and settled on a plan to liquidate all Indian reservations, close the Indian Office and terminate all federal recognition of the tribes. During the course of the Congressional hearings, several justifications for termination were formulated.

Many of the justifications were derived from the economic situation of the federal government. The government’s intent was to eliminate forever any additional expenses from the tribes. The expenditures were in the form of funds for support of tribal governments and maintenance of the reservations, from managing the tribal funds and resources, from educational costs for tribal children, and from the Indian Claims cases. Above and beyond the $40 million spend on overhead and services for tribal reservations, the Indian Claims cases were costing the government millions to try the cases and additional millions to pay for the awards to the tribes. Congress sought ways out of this expensive situation and devised a set of justifications to address these issues.

In addition, there were a set of issues relating to land ownership of the tribes. While the tribes had ceded many millions of acres of land to the government in order to secure services, education, health care and a permanent land base, they collectively occupied millions of acres of land. The tribal reservations were some of the last untouched and unexploited lands in the United States and the tribes did not make full use of the reservation lands or the resources on that land. To many politicians, the tribes were wasting the land if they were not making full use of it. And, while the Indian Office managed the land and was able to offer leases to businesses, the process was prohibitive to industries seeking to save their bottom line. Justifications for termination followed a historical political pattern where unexploited resources are pursued by the United States in order to fulfill a need for growth and expansion. In the 1940s-1950s, this need was for an inward expansion and development of Indian Country, a significant land-base which contained the last of the unexploited resources of the American west.

The acquisition of the Indian reservations was limited by the continued existence of Indians. As long as Indians existed and could claim treaty rights, they remained an impediment to unchecked exploitation of their resources. Therefore, through a series of discussions about justifications for removal of Indians status, their federal recognition, the Congress, led by Senator Arthur Watkins of Utah, created arguments which eventually succeeded with the majority of senators, and even convinced many Indians, that they would be better off freed from government oppression (Senese 1991:17).

Reasons for Termination

The sale of the final Indian trust lands at Grand Ronde and Siletz was part of a long term pattern of disenfranchising natives from their lands. In Oregon for one hundred years, the U.S. Government has been reducing tribal land holdings through a succession of treaties with tribes and congressional acts.  By the beginning of the 20th century, the growth of Indian management as an incremental part of United States government became a liability, costing millions in annual overhead.

Indian trust and reservation lands were a significant burden as funds spent on these lands were not taxable, and resources on and under these lands were expensive to exploit because of the bureaucratic process of gaining leases to Indian trust lands. Therefore the Indian reservations constituted an unrealized revenue source.

In addition, Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier’s administration (1933-1945), was in many ways a reversal of the policies of assimilation and the new laws created by Collier served to strengthen Indian governments. Colliers changes in federal Indian policy were not working quickly enough or showing signs of lessening the burden on the United States. Collier was ousted in favor of a new administration which would vigorously pursue termination.

Demographic Movements

The history of the federal irrigation projects is remarkable. We can trace these issues back to the Great Depression (1929-1939). This was a time when the erosive agricultural practices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries affected the mid-west. Almost simultaneously large tracts of formerly highly productive farmlands became vast wastelands. A combination of drought and the loss of top soils caused a collapse of agriculture in the mid-west. Thousands of poor workers moved westward to the states of Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, to find work in agriculture. This may have been one of the largest migrations of native peoples in recorded history as many Indians during the decades following the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) were disallowed from claiming an Indian allotment because of their less than ½ Indian blood quantum. As such thousands of Indians were dispossessed from Indian reservations in the region and joined the ranks of the migrant farm workers (Lomawaima 1994).[1]

Another movement of people was identified by Congressmen from California who spoke about the influx of migrations of people into California as part of the World War II industrial production mobilization. From these two migrations came a need for massive urban infrastructural development in California.

Revival of Agriculture

In the 1930s and 1940s, the United States was in need of water resources restoration projects to fill the national needs of agricultural restoration, development and urban development in the West. When the United States entered World War II, all plans of undertaking expensive and labor intensive reclamation projects ended. The reclamation projects were meant to answer the problem of the collapse of mid-western agriculture in the Great Depression, but the war effort redirected domestic funding to war production.  Following the end of World War II, in 1945, Congress revisited the reclamation projects for the development of water reclamation and irrigation projects in support of agriculture (United States Senate 1947:390-1027).

The Department of Reclamation was tasked by Congress with building dams in 14 western states to help revive agricultural resources. Among the many projects were the Central Valley Project of California, Missouri River Basin Project, Fort Peck Project, Hungry Horse Project, Bitterroot Project, Idaho Projects, Boise Project, Minidoka Project, and Palisades Project (Senate 1947:1075).

In the Department of Interior annual appropriations hearings before Congress, there were back-to-back hearings of annual budgets from the many bureaus under the Department, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Reclamation. During the hearings there were comparisons drawn to the current needs of the tribes for irrigation projects on the reservations and the needs of the state for the same projects. Some senators asked how much money would be returned on an investment of federal funds in an irrigation project on a reservation; the answer was none, as tribes were not taxed. Then there were questions about how much federal funding was annually appropriated by the Indian Office. The answer was about forty million dollars. Each of the irrigation projects mentioned in the hearings was going to cost many millions of dollars, and the return on the investments on public lands would be continuously reimbursed (Senate 1947:1076).  The back-to-back comparisons in the appropriations hearings made it clear that the senators did not want to waste funding on Indian reservations when such funds would not be reimbursable. In addition the discussions suggested that the Indian Office funds be appropriated to fund irrigation projects for the states as that would aid the most people, including Indians.

The State’s needs were particularly apparent when the senators presented their state’s needs to the assembly.  In relation to North Dakota, Senator Langer, discussed the needs for reclamation projects in the entire 17 western states and in particular his home state, well representing the direness of the situation which had been an issue for over a decade:

North Dakota has gone through three drought periods in this century, and we are resolved to take all possible measures to reduce to a minimum the damages of the next dry spell (Senate 1947:1075-1076).


For California, Senators Downey and Smith, stated the need for the Central Valley Project and stated that WWII had caused up to two million people to immigrate into California. The immigrants came to San Francisco and Los Angeles to provide labor for the military industry. These people did not leave California after the war industry collapsed for following the cessation of WWII and spread out to the more affordable rural areas. These people did not leave following the war and there was a great need to provide water, power, and settlement options for these new people (Senate 1947:1018).

The need for infrastructural development was around water and power was a major factor in the federal push for termination of the Indian Reservations, as they contained vast unexploited natural resources. Klamath Reservation alone contained almost 1 million acres of lodgepole pine, and owned the headwaters of the Klamath River and much of Klamath Basin. In addition, there were extensive claims on the Klamath River from northern California tribes like Karok and Yurok. The tribal claims constituted an impediment to complete exploitation of the regional resources.

The plea from California’s senators was supported by Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, who discussed the need to extend services of Bonneville Power Administration and send cheap power to other regions, and for irrigation (Senate 1947:1125). Senator Morse was referring to the Oregon-California Power distribution plan which extended a power grid from the Columbia River power generating dams into California, stretching through the Klamath River area. This plan, supported by the leading democrat in Oregon, Senator Neuberger, was dependent on the elimination of the tribal reservations and claims on major Oregon rivers to feed the needs of the growing California economy. The Klamath Reservation and the other Indian reservations along the Klamath River in California were impeding the development of the Klamath Basin and northern California (Senate 1947:390).

There were additional benefits to termination and access the reservation lands and resources. When the land became public, the state and federal governments would be able to tax the power, water, and land. This investment would yield a significant annual economic return to the United States government and the states of Oregon and California.

Timber, Water, and Power Resources

The Indian reservations contained some of the last remaining unexploited domestic natural resources. Tribal Nations maintained legal rights to water, minerals and other resources and were becoming highly successful in protecting their rights. Tribal Nations based their rights on the treaties of the previous century, for the most part, and asserted their rights through hundreds of Indian Claims cases. In the perspective of the government, the Indian Tribes stood in the way of continued unrestricted development of the country by the American people.

The two tribes under the greatest pressure for termination nationally were the Menominee and Klamath mainly for their timber holdings (Haynal 1986).  The western Oregon reservations of Siletz and Grand Ronde did not have significant forest resources nor other resources, collectively less than 15,000 cares of timberlands. One of the important questions related to the termination of the western Oregon Indians was: why were the western Oregon tribes terminated?  It is common knowledge that Governor McKay was heavily invested in the timber industry as the Governor, which is why the Klamath Reservation and its rich resources were pursued (Fixico 1986).  However, termination of the Klamath Reservation was on the government’s agenda for many years before Governor McKay’s was appointed Secretary of the Department of the Interior, as he and other politicians in Oregon were working on projects to harness the power of the major Oregon rivers through hydro-projects. It is possible that McKay’s insertion into the Secretary position was meant to ensure that Klamath termination would be successful.  McKay was well experienced with forestry issues and about termination as he had worked with the Oregon tribes for several years on the issues of their impending termination. There were larger resources issues at stake for the government and for the States of Oregon and California. Klamath tribal termination was the necessary act that freed up the Klamath River for complete exploitation for power and water needs in California. In Oregon, the nearly one million acres of lodge pole pine were expected to help revive the state economy and had the support of the state’s two top politicians, Senators Morse and Neuberger.

Eventually Congress settled on a complex plan to pay for the reclamation projects through a combination of user’s fees from farmers and the proceeds from the power produced from the dams. In 1957, in the Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation hearings, it was found that the power generated from the new dams was paying at a much faster rate, for the construction project than originally thought:

Mr. Utt. …is the project in which the allocation for irrigation is reimbursable with interest?

Mr. Gregory.  The construction charge, as far as farmers are concerned, is not reimbursable with interest. They pay a flat average of $85 an acre. Insofar as the power is concerned… the power sales from the dam are far beyond the fondest dreams of anybody, and it is repaying back ahead of schedule. …The farmer is paying originally 24 percent of the cost of construction costs of irrigation project works, whereas power sales are paying the rest (Affairs and Representatives 1957:75).


Therefore, it was seen as a better situation to have the dam sited away from Indian reservations and in the case where Indians owned the dam sites, then those tribes would have to be terminated. The tribes in western Oregon may have offered a threat to the continued development of the vast water resources throughout the regions as they maintained some aboriginal rights to their former traditional homelands. Their rights were being defended in the Indian Claims Court for the mismanagement of funds and treaty rights by the Indian Office. The Indian Claims Cases proved that the tribes were willing pursue their sovereign rights. Treaties gave some tribes rights to fishing and hunting, while dams would clearly take way or impact those resources. The largest and most public case was that of the building of The Dalles Dam, finished in 1957, which led to the destruction of Celilo Falls through submersion. This issue was a critical ongoing political battle between Columbia River tribes and the Federal government throughout the 1950s (Barber 2005; Dupris, et al. 2006).[2] Therefore, the government wanted to avoid problems like Celilo Falls in western Oregon and on the Klamath River and the simplest solution was the elimination of the tribal rights of Indian people to their aboriginal homelands through termination.

The most significant reasons for termination involved federal and state government’s need to free up valuable resources from relatively untouched Indian reservations. Key among these resources were the readily available water and timber which was most important in newly developing regions of the country. But the Indian reservations also contained enormous potential for sub-surface resources. Larry Burt states that:

Mineral companies could exploit native resources at substantially less cost without intervention by the BIA. With Bureau regulations and sales restrictions eliminated, they could buy the land or negotiate leases without going through the usual procedure of advertising and awarding extraction rights to the highest bidder… (1982:31).


The same situations apply equally to water and timber. It was a common practice for the BIA to lease out significant parcels of Indian reservation land to companies who exploited all of these resources. It would make sense for the companies to lobby federal and state politicians to make termination a reality for tribes with the most significant resources.

There are other significant issues with the placement of the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior (DOI) which created conflicted relationships between the tribes and the DOI. As the DOI’s main responsibility is to oversee the lands and resources of the United States, there is a natural conflict when the BIA’s role is to oversee the lands and resources of the Indian tribes:

One argument holds that the Department of the Interior is in fact the natural enemy of the resource interests of the Indian tribes because of its public responsibility and because of a natural and cultural affinity with those economic, social, cultural and political interests of the West which are most frequent at odds with Indian interests and which have historically profited from the misfortunes and relative disadvantages of the Indian tribe (Task Force Three and Commission 1976:3).


In light of this issue, the DOI’s role in termination is suspect in its entirety, as many of the other programs and bureaus would directly benefit from the termination of Indian reservations. Therefore, the actions of Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay of pushing for termination of the tribes are completely inappropriate relationships.

It is conceivable that the BIA sought the elimination of the claims of the western Oregon tribes to their traditional homelands through termination. Through the many Indian Claims Cases filed against the United States, the western Oregon tribes had exhibited a willingness to defend their rights in western Oregon. There remained latent unresolved issues with hunting and fishing rights and a few territories, like the Coos homelands which remained to be fully resolved. Therefore the termination of the tribes would effectively limit the ability of the tribes to defend their rivers against efforts to dam them. Once dammed, it is then exceedingly difficult to remove a dam, as we have seen in the 1990s-2000s.

However, western Oregon tribes had not retained significant hunting and fishing rights through treaties, and did not control many natural resources at their reservations. Their removal from their traditional homelands had limited their continued involvement in fishing on the Columbia River, eeling at Willamette Falls, or hunting in the Cascades. Although some tribal families in time reestablished themselves back in their traditional territories.  The termination of the western Oregon tribes was based primarily on their lack of ability to defend against termination.  Donald Fixico points out that on August 10, 1954:

Assistant Interior Secretary Lewis officially recommended the liquidation of federal responsibility to the Klamath Tribe in Oregon…. On the same day, Deputy Attorney General William Rogers wrote to Rowland Hughes, director of the Bureau of the Budget, to declare that in addition to the Klamaths there were sixty small Indian bands, tribes, and groups in Western Oregon that could undergo federal withdrawal. Economically, the government deemed that these groups and the Klamaths were self-sustaining… (Fixico 1986:116).


For the western Oregon tribes it was the assumption of the federal authorities that they were assimilated which helped the inception of their termination bill. The western Oregon tribes did not have the land holdings, timber or water resources that would attract the attention of the government to covet their reservations for economic reasons. The timber issue for the western Oregon tribes was a minor part of their termination, where they collectively owned about 13,500 acres at termination (Holm 1955a).

Elimination of Excess Federal Expenditures

During WWII staffing levels in the government grew exponentially. In the post-war era, the government had to eliminate excess employees and find money for interior development programs. One of the agencies identified as wasteful was the Indian Bureau. In 1947, the Senate Committee on Civil Service initiated hearings to determine how much waste there was in federal departments and to investigate the potential for reduction of the Indian Bureau.  It is informative to note the relation that the committee is making to the number of Indians served versus the money spent on their management:

The Chairman [William Langer, North Dakota] … You find that in 1938 all the agencies of our Government had in their employ 866,224 people; today they have 2,561,209. It is an increase of 195.7 percent. As I view it, it is the job of this committee under the resolution that is adopted to see to it that there is no excess employees that we do not need, that any one of these departments does not justify, and that we should get rid of those surplus employees… under the resolution that was passed we agreed to take up the Interior Department specifically, dealing with the Indian question, Now, gentlemen, as you will note, we have also these statistics prepared for us by the United States Civil Service Commission, which justified for nearly 12,000 employees to take care of roughly 350,000 Indians in this country (Committee on Civil Service 1947:8-9).


Under the numbers presented, there were about 29 Indians for each Indian Office employee. Regardless of services owed the tribes through treaties, the Committee on Civil Service was only concerned with the bottom line of having to continually staff an increasing number of positions in the Indian Office. Despite this the Indian Bureau had suffered decreased services during WWII and had grown very slowly compared with other departments like the Department of Defense (Senese 1991:3). Other Senators noticed the unfairness of the situation:

Senator O’Daniel. And pick on the Indian first?

The Chairman. Because we figured that they had too much help. The Interior Department had 45,430 employees in 1938, and now they have 48,992 (Committee on Civil Service 1947:9).


Therefore, during WWII the number of employees in the whole Department of the Interior (DOI) grew by 3562 employees, likely much less than most other federal departments. The Office of Indian Affairs was only a small portion of the DOI as it contains the departments of agriculture, forestry, BLM, and reclamation as well as others.  It would be an informative to show the number of employees within the Defense Department during the same time, or even any other department.

Regardless, the Committee was tasked with reducing waste by reducing federal employees:

Senator Thye. [Edward Thye, Minnesota] The reason Mr. Zimmerman, this committee is holding these hearings is for the purpose of ascertaining in which manner could we bring about economy in the respective divisions, and which manner the number of employees could be reduced and still render the kind of service to the public and to your division that the Nation or the public would expect, and we would like very much to have you give us any statement or any recommendation you might care to give, outlining in which manner your division could economize and reduce the number of Federal employees (Committee on Civil Service 1947:73).


Here, Senator Thye defends and explains the government’s intent to reduce the number of employees to save money. However, with the relative slow growth of employees in the Interior Department over a period of ten years, it appears that the committee is looking at the wrong sector of the government.  The next section exhibits that the committee is not just looking at the growth of employees in the Interior Department but really at eliminating the Indian Office by terminating all Indian reservations:


Senator Johnson. What would they lose from the Government by terminating that supervision?

Mr. Zimmerman. I suppose they would lose advice and judgment.

The Chairman. It costs $40,000,000 a year to give advice and judgment?

The Chairman. I think we ought to abolish the Indian agency entirely. It is absolutely unnecessary. We have the booklet here that was submitted, and we subpoenaed Mr. Crawford. I think the Bureau is absolutely useless.

Senator Chavez. And would save the Government $40,000,000.

Mr. Zimmerman. Congress has it within its power to negate treaties and repeal treaties and statutes (Committee on Civil Service 1947:124,130).


The discussion outlines the fundamental argument of Congress for termination of all Indian reservations and the subsequent elimination of the Indian Service. Termination is at its base, an elimination of significant overhead for the government. The subsequent discussions outline how the proposal is possible, what steps will have to be made to implement the elimination of the Indian Service.  When simple elimination of the expenses was found not possible, discussion turned to how to reduce the expenses in an orderly step-by-step fashion:


Mr. Zimmerman. Mr. Chairman, as I understand the Committee’s request, you asked me to suggest certain procedures by which the personnel and expenses of the Indian Office might be reduced. I have brought with me a number of proposals for specific steps which the Department and the Congress might take to bring about the results you have been seeking.

As I said before, the personnel of the Indian Service is engaged in rendering a variety of services that provide education, medical services, building roads, developing irrigation systems, and generally developing Indian reservations, and assisting the Indians in bringing them into use.

Obviously, the cost of this service can be reduced. It is possible to curtail or eliminate any one of those. It would also be possible to reduce the number of Indians who are entitled to this service (Committee on Civil Service 1947:543).


The basic point of contention for the discussion above is how well the tribes are sufficiently developed or assimilated to relinquish government assistance. As it was apparent that many reservations were simply not ready for termination, the committee set about establishing how to determine which Indians were assimilated. The Committee assumed that if a tribe was fully assimilated then they would have no further need for government assistance and services.

For the Indian Affairs Committee, they emphasized a business perspective by inferring that the government was spending too much money for too few people served. The issues show an apparent increase in staff in government during WWII, but the excess staffing problem was not within the Interior Department, which grew by only about 3562 employees during the war years. Most likely, the problem was with the Department of Defense (DOD) and the other supporting federal departments. So there were other issues active and relevant during this discussion, issues that had more to do with the change of federal Indian policy toward termination and the elimination of the Indian Bureau.

Assumption of Assimilation[3]

The United States was active in promotion of assimilation from the beginnings of Indian management. Congressional acts like the Dawes Severalty Act established narrow definitions of which Indians that may receive an Indian allotment. The Dawes Act held that Indians must be at least ½ Indian blood quantum to receive an allotment. This act alone disenfranchised thousands of Indians from reservations to where they were dispossessed by their tribal communities. Many of the dispossessed Indians were forced to assimilate into American society to survive (Lomawaima 1994; McNickle 1962; Washburn 1975).

Additional attempts to assimilate Indians wee focused at tribal children. On-reservation and off-reservation boarding schools were established throughout the United States to assimilate Indians (Lomawaima 1994). Education consisted of English only instruction with children forced to wear American clothing, cut their hair, to not speak their native languages, and learn the Christian religion (Lomawaima 1994).  The removal of these children from their community caused had a great effect on their ability to learn their native culture. Many children did not return to their reservation and chose instead to assimilate (Lomawaima 1994).

Efforts to dispossess and educate them to assimilate worked for a time. Many reservations saw a decline in populations in the late 19th and early 20th century part of this decline was from assimilation. However, the decline of Indians on reservations was not quick enough and Indians became the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States by 1930 (McNickle 1962).

By the 1940s it was clear that a different approach to assimilation had to occur. Beginning in 1944 Congress began calling for an end of services to assimilated Indians who no longer needed the services.   In 1944 Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Zimmerman created a three section list of assimilated, partially assimilated and not assimilated tribes at Congress’s request (Affairs and Representatives 1944). Discussions in committee turned to the need to terminate the assimilated tribes as they were no longer culturally Indian.

Peripherally related to the earliest anthropological periods for the United States, Franz Boas and his students (1890s-1950s and later) set the tone for American anthropological research. The early American anthropologists regularly sought out information from the oldest and least assimilated Indians on which to base their field research (Lewis and Kingston 2007). It was thought that Indians who were too much assimilated were no longer culturally Indian and therefore not worth studying. In later periods, the definition of who was culturally Indian changed to fit a broader spectrum of Indian people, including those assimilated (McNickle 1962; Vizenor 1994). Culture was then redefined as a more fluid notion, where Native people could remain culturally Indian despite their level of assimilation.

While there does not appear to be a direct connection between the earlier anthropological methods of Franz Boas and his students and the Congressional assimilation arguments in favor of termination in the 1940s and 1950s, there is a philosophical similarity of connectedness. In both time periods, an assumed assimilated quality of an Indian is used to eliminate them from being culturally Indian. The cultural definition in the 1950s relates redirection to their ability to remain politically and legally Indian according to Congress. Broadly, the re-definition of Indians as not living or operating within a native cultural lifeways is related to their ability to claim political and legal rights throughout the history of Indian affairs in the United States. In the termination era, this re-definitive become particularly acute.[4]

The political redefinition of assimilated Indians was never supported by any scientific evidence that established that assimilated Indians were no longer Indian. In fact in 1943 Senator Elmer Thomas of Oklahoma recommended that the Indian Bureau abolish all scientific research, citing problems with the intention of employees who were scientists in the BIA:[5]

Eliminate surveys by the Indian Bureau…. Survey is an interesting recreation, albeit expensive…. Eliminate research and studies as carried on by the Bureau. The Indian Bureau type of research is mainly done by preferred employees who get into the service to research for their doctor’s thesis at Government expense…. Eliminate all specialists, including anthropologists, various specialists in education, sociologists, social workers, and program planners (Affairs and Representatives 1943:61-63; Thomas 1943).


It is unclear what the motivation that Senator Thomas has in discrediting scientific research, besides their expense. Perhaps at this time, the scientific studies were limiting the ability of the Senate to make quick decisions about Indian peoples.

Many tribes in the early part of the 20th century enjoyed economic success. They success of tribes like Menominee (forestry), Osage (oil), and Klamath (forestry), aided the perception of cultural assimilation as each tribe was effectively handling its own affairs. At the Klamath Reservation, the tribe was able to pay for all of the annual expenses and services supplied by the federal government, because of their vast logging resources and resultant income.

It is important to note that Congress placed the label of assimilation on tribes at the tribal level, not at the individual level.  During the early discussions about assimilation of the tribes, there was no individual assessment made for any reservation. The Ten Year Program reports of 1944, created by the BIA agency office staff, were based on a wartime economy, where Indians were employed by more sectors of society than when all of the soldiers away in formed lands were at home. When WWII ended and the soldiers returned minorities and women lost their jobs to white men in great quantities. Following the war many tribal governments could handle their own business affairs, but many tribal members could not as they were recently unemployed.

At other times success was ascribed by the lack of requests for aid or utilization of services by the tribal community from the BIA. This is the case for the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations. The lack of utilization of services by the tribes is linked to the history of abandonment of the tribes by the Indian Office. Elders at Grand Ronde and Siletz, Cheryle Kennedy and Bob Tom, both indicated that previous to termination, their tribes had not used many of the BIA services as the tribal members were “left to make their own way” (Kennedy 2006; Tom 2006). There is an indication that this was a fact at Grand Ronde, as at the time of termination, there were very few remaining land allotments, and land management constituted the greatest of the expenses incurred by the Indian Office.

At Grand Ronde there was established a tribal council and a business committee where both made economic decisions to benefit the tribe. In 1934, Grand Ronde accepted the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), and adopted a constitution and bylaws. Siletz was not an IRA tribe. The IRA tribes made many of their administrative decisions themselves without federal interference.  Therefore by the 1930’s the Grand Ronde Indians were used to making their own decisions and did not rely on the Indian Service to manage them. Under John Collier and the Indian New Deal (1934), the Indian service set about programs of economic development unique to each region. Regardless of the self-sufficiency of the Indians, there was still a paucity of economic opportunities at the reservations for tribal members.

Also in the late 1930’s began several federal Rehabilitation programs to benefit tribes. The Indian Service facilitated the restoration of an individual allotment program, the building of many tribal houses, including the Community Governance Hall, the Indian Civilian Conservation Corps, family gardens, and the creation of an economic development program through a cannery. The cannery program in particular was managed through the Salem Industrial School or Chemawa Indian School, and involved students at Chemawa, Siletz, Grand Ronde and a southern Oregon community centered at Empire. Far about a decade, jams, canned vegetables, fruits and meats were sold to local markets, to Portland department stores, to resorts and to the railroad.

Additionally, since the 19th century tribal members from both Siletz and Grand Ronde would leave the reservations in the summers to join the migrant farm workers in the Willamette Valley. They would leave the reservation despite the fact that they were not allowed to leave without a pass, a BIA policy which existed into the 1920s.  The reason they left is that there were not enough income sources at the reservations and the Indian Service was not supplying enough resources to feed and take care of the people. The people had to learn to fend for themselves when the Indian service did not supply adequate resources or services.

Evidence of assimilation was not insisted by Congress. The decisions of the politicians were based on information from Indian Agents. Never were scientists summoned for their opinions. The closest Congress came to a study was in the Indian Office ordered “Ten-Year Plans” which were detailed reports from individual reservations which were a reservation inventory and a report on a whole range of issues related to the success of the tribes.  It is not clear whether Congress took these plans into account. The Ten-Year Plans reports were based within a war-time economy which would have little bearing on Native socio-economic environment in the post-war era. This fact is mentioned in the reports. Additionally the House Committee on Indian Services visited the reservations in 1947 and wrote their own report.

One of the revealing statements about the assimilation of Indians is written by Elmer Thomas (Oklahoma) on behalf of the Committee on Indian Affairs in 1943:

Even the so-called enumerated Indians are enumerated only in the sense that they once appeared on some allotment, per capita, or treaty enumeration roll. Many thousands of them have now been merged completely with the white population or are scattered over the face of the globe. A recent survey of the 200 Indian families, so-called, scattered through several counties in southwest Oregon, showed that 92 Indian women have white husbands and 61 Indian men have white wives… Nearly 7,000 of the 14,000 “enumerated” Indians under the Consolidated Chippewa Agency in Minnesota do not live in the so-called Indian Country but are scattered over the United States and possessions and are merged with the general citizenry of the country. This is true of the “enumerated” Indian under most agency justifications, except part of the Southwest (1943).


As mentioned earlier, members of Congress were operating under the assumption or created the assumption that once Natives were no longer living within their reservation, and lived amongst other Americans that they were no longer culturally Indian. There appears to be no understanding of the fact that these people were inheritors of treaty rights that had no stipulation that Natives be culturally or politically defined. In their discussions, Congressmen perceived treaty rights as “special rights” above other Americans, and not as legally defined rights under the Constitution of the United States.

While the committee assumed that American Indians were well assimilated, in fact many had never experienced the responsibility of paying property taxes, mortgages, leases or the like. Many Indians did not fully understand how such concepts as taxes, property ownership, and many other responsibilities that most Americans took for granted would affect their lives, their lifestyles, and their cultures.  As well, since reservation Indians had been fully supported for 100 years in Oregon, the American settlers around them had firmly established themselves in society. The settler ancestors were reaping the benefits of the settlement and land claims of their ancestors. To release thousands of Indians into this society would be akin to having thousands of immigrants arrive one day on United States soil. They would have, and did have an uphill struggle to create that foundation.

Native War Volunteers

There were some events and actions of the 1940s which led to assumptions that Native people were doing fine in American society and even persevering which leant to general assumption that they were assimilated. During America’s wars, Native people volunteered at impressive levels, on average more than any other ethnic group. Commissioner John Collier wasted no time in taking advantage of this fact by advertising the role that Indians played in the war in the monthly BIA circulars and in his annual reports. The publicity helped to promote the Indian service but also lead to opinions by Senators and other politicians that Indian people were assimilating well into American society. Senator Chavez’s 1947 statement is repeated here:

They have gone to war. We all adore that picture taken at Iwo Jima where the Marines were putting up the flag. An Indian took part in that. Tell me he should not have his freedom like the rest of us!

Thousands upon thousands went into the war. They learned to fight. They learned to take care of themselves. They learned to brush their teeth. They learned to wash. They learned to eat and it is a shame the way the Indians are treated in the United States of America (Committee on Civil Service 1947:94).


Senator Chavez is clearly exaggerating the facts in his statement as he was merely quoting the public characterization of Indians within this time period. It is not reasonable to assume that Indians had to learn eating and washing from solely the military, even during this period. But this may not have been too far from what many Americans believed.

At another level, for some reservations, some of these behaviors, like washing and brushing teeth, may not have been the norm. If the BIA had impoverished reservations by not developing basic services, like in-home running water, electricity and sewage, then it would be reasonable to assume that regular daily cleaning would not have been as common. If these services were impoverished, then what others may we assume would be similarly lacking? We know that medical, dental and access to state services were lacking, through the reports on the Indian Service by Congress (Thomas 1943), and through the monthly reports on “sanitation” [health] by the BIA in the late 19th century (SWORP Collection 1995-Present; Lewis 2001; 2002).

In these monthly sanitation reports, native people from Siletz and Grand Ronde were made to fend for themselves in securing medications and current health care for their children, as the reservation staff physician did not have up-to-date medication or adequate funds to give good health care to the reservation Indians.  Additionally, some Native households did not have running water into the 1950s, a good example of this being John and Hattie Hudson’s house at the Grand Ronde Reservation.[6]

In 1950, an additional 2,500 Indians joined the military to serve in the Korean War, as further evidence of Native assimilation. The Fifty-Fourth Thunderbird Division, containing a large number of American Indian soldiers performed with honors during the war, and gained further attention. These successes added to the perception that Indians were already assimilated and not needing of further government aid (Fixico 1986:57).

In 1953, Superintendent of Indian Affairs E. Morgan Pryse proposed the second plan for termination in Oregon in the Proposed Withdrawal of Federal Responsibilities over the Property and Affairs of the Indians of Western Oregon (Pryse 1953). In the plan he writes about the assimilation of the Indians:

The younger generations are mixed bloods and in most cases have the  appearance of white people; they are literate, have practically all of the mannerisms of the average white person, are practically all gainfully employed either in their own businesses or by others, and are capable of attending to their own affairs to the same extent as other citizens (Holm 1955b:18-19).



The Bureau of Indian Affairs has, over the period of many years, assiduously sponsored and promoted education of Indian children of the west coast tribes of Oregon, and in this process has mixed the Indian children with white children through school contacts. Association with the whites, in school and general society of their respective communities, has resulted in intermarriage and wide assimilation has taken place (Holm 1955b:19).


And finally:

The Indians of Western Oregon have received from the Federal Government the same type of assistance rendered other tribes and bands throughout the United States. As far as the Indians of Western Oregon are concerned this assistance has had the effect of raising their economic, social and cultural standards to practically the same level as other citizens. There remains no necessity for continuing such assistance, as to these Indians. As to fulfillment of treaty obligations, the Indians of Western Oregon have already been awarded by the Court of Claims certain recoveries; in other cases. Claims petitions have been filed for recovery of all damages they allege to be due them from the United States (Holm 1955b:19).


Then later in 1953, E. Morgan Pryse again writes convincingly about how well the Grand Ronde Indian have assimilated:

They [Grand Ronde-Siletz] have already experienced most of the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship, and have for a long period of time been accepted by their non-Indian neighbors on the same basis as other citizens serving on the local school and election boards and participating in other civic affairs. The Indians of Southwest Oregon were not closely affiliated with an Indian Agency prior to 1938, Federal assistance consisted principally in according them the privilege of enrolling their eligible children in Chemawa School and in supervising their timber and land sales (Holm 1955b:1).


Director Pryse makes interesting points throughout 1953 in that he minimizes the amount of assistance that the Indians of western Oregon received in order to show their independence. Pryse’s reports, like those erroneously reporting that the tribes had agreed to termination under the 1954 bill, are misleading in that they do not contain any information from the Indian people. Pryse appears to be attempting to write convincingly about Indian assimilate to his superiors in Washington, D.C. It is the case that many of the Indians had assimilated, and they lived in a similar manner as their neighboring white farmers.  However Congress would not have known if enough of the Grand Ronde tribal members had assimilated and felt comfortable to manage their own affairs as the Indians were not allowed to communicate in congressional hearings.

Assimilation for the federal government was not a well defined term. The definition of assimilated for Grand Ronde depends solely on what the Indian agent wrote in his reports. It is also important to state that the treaties had not clause for assimilation. The redefinition of Indians as assimilated, therefore undeserving of being an Indian is an unconscionable act by the Federal government.

Freedom from Management

During and following WWII, American Indians came into the public spotlight for their service to the United States. More Indians served in the armed forced per capita than any other ethnic community. This go the attention of Congress and discussions commenced in 1946 about the need to allow these American Indian servicemen to be freed of federal management and to own their own property.  The success of American Indian servicemen also helped justify the argument for their competency to assimilate into American society. This discussion added to the already extensive discussions occurring in Congress about the need to “free” Indians from Indian Office management. The servicemen issue likely helped add momentum to the termination question and brought a political spotlight to expedite the process. In 1946, a bill was introduced to the Senate for the “Removal of Restrictions on Property of Indians Who Served in the Armed Forces” (Senese 1991:3-4).

Perhaps the most significant hearing to start the process of termination of the Indian tribes is that of March 23, 1943, before the Committee on Indian Affairs. This hearing established the foundations for a policy of dissolution of the Indian Bureau “at the first possible opportunity” (Affairs and Representatives 1943:6). During the hearing, Senator Mundt stated that he is looking forward to when Congress passes “constructive legislation” that will lead to the day when “Indians fit into white man’s civilization” (Affairs and Representatives 1943:6).

One of the earliest arguments is favor of the liquidation of the Indian Bureau comes from Senator Elmer Thomas (Oklahoma) on the Committee on Indian Affairs in 1943. In his report to the Senate, Senator Thomas is heavily critical of John Collier and the direction of the Indian Bureau in 1943:


While the original aim was to make the Indian a citizen, the present aim appears to be to keep the Indian an Indian and to make him satisfied with all the limitations of a primitive life. We are striving mightily to help him recapture his ancient, worn-out cultures which are now hardly a vague memory to him and are absolutely unable to function in his present world…. The Bureau has been concerned with building up a system instead of a service; attempting to build self-perpetuating institutions; making material improvements for the Indian Service at the expense of Indian life; furnishing physical relief that was not needed nearly so much as economic and civic encouragement; breaking down assisting agencies; segregating the Indian from the general citizenry; condemning the Indian to perpetual wardship; making the Indian the guinea pig for experimentation; grouping the Indians for convenience of supervision for which they are presumed to exist; tieing him to the land in perpetuity; forcing a conventional type of education on him; attempting to compel all Indians to engage in agriculture and stock raising under the supervision of an extension department which is an end in itself (Thomas 1943:17-18).


The timing of this report, in direct opposition to the policies of John Collier, suggests that it was the beginning of a series of hearings and an investigation in the 1940’s to eliminate the Indian Bureau. Senator Thomas suggests a series of stages to eliminate services to Indians (Thomas 1943:19), a recommendation which was taken up in the 1950’s with the establishment of the relocation and education programs, meant to ease the assimilation process for the tribes already earmarked for termination. Klamath termination clearly occurred in stages as there were 7 years from the passage of the termination act to final termination, with the final stage being the sales of all of their forest landholdings.

In 1944, the House Indian Affairs Committee, disgusted with the performance of the Indian Office, conducted their own investigation of Indian reservations, visiting several in person, and found an environment of poverty and oppression (Affairs and Representatives 1944). The House Indian Affairs Committee concluded that this situation was mainly brought about by the Indian Office’s inadequate management of Indians. The committee saw Indians being treated as second-class citizens who did not enjoy all of the rights as other Americans, the amenities of modern society, and the committee saw their segregation on rural reservations away from other Americans as a problem. Therefore, the committee decided that the Indians needed to be freed from the century of mismanagement by the Indian Office.

Their specific findings were, that the Native were given “inadequate economic opportunities which are aggravated in their severity by the inability of the individual Indian to secure suitable agricultural land, with improvements, so that he can become self-supporting. Secondly native people had “inadequate educational opportunities which grow out of the failure to provide suitable and sufficient training for Indian youths at levels high enough so that they can go out into the world adjusted to meet the problems of the white man’s society and equipped successfully with white citizens of similar age and aptitudes.” Thirdly native people had inadequate guidance for adult Indians living on the reservation so that they may be inspired and enabled (a) to build and maintain better, cleaner, more healthful homes, (b) to utilize more fully the excellent hospital and health facilities available on most reservations, and (c) to adapt themselves to better farming and livestock practices or promote themselves into economic security by practicing trades and successful business habits. Finally, the Indian office had been provided inadequate provisions in legislation and in Bureau regulations (a) to give final settlement to prevailing Indian claims cases, (b) to consolidate the multitudinous fractionated heirships now cluttering up the record books of Indian reservation offices, (c) to provide a recognized and standardized procedure whereby Indians who have the capacity to lead competent, independent lives may at their own volition be certified as full-fledged citizens to whom all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship would become available (Affairs and Representatives 1944:335-336).

The subcommittee report clearly articulates many of the future stated goals of termination in their report, in the fourth point that they “…be certified as full-fledged citizens…” (Affairs and Representatives 1944:335-336). This may be the foundation of the goal stated by Congress in the 1950’s for freedom of the Indians. The need for freedom originates from the social, economic and political stresses of Indian people not having full access to American social society by being removed to remote rural reservations, possessing rights far beyond the average American citizen which alienates them in society, being subjected to intensive management and policies of the Indian Office, and not being allowed to practice their culture or be spirituality free from government intervention.[7] However, as discussed elsewhere, the rhetoric of freedom was at another level a convenient political slogan to invite public, governmental, and tribal sympathy for termination.

Most of the subcommittee’s findings, however, show an ignorance of the history of Indian affairs. The assumption being that the Indian Office was responsible for not providing sufficient services for Indians to become efficiently assimilated as in “inadequate employment…inadequate education… inadequate guidance…” and “inadequate …legislation…” (Affairs and Representatives 1944:336). These inadequacies are clearly in existence and have been since the inception and creation of the reservation system, yet it is not the Indian Office who is completely at fault, but instead the un-willingness of the U.S. Government to live up to and fund its responsibilities as stipulated in the treaties. The Indian Office is the tool for the U.S. Government’s political will that tends to shift readily according to the expedient political and economic issues of the times. Furthermore, they recognized “that in their present status, the American Indians as groups are not ready to be “turned loose” and that the Government of the United States has not as yet discharged its obligation to the Indian to the point where the Indian Office can be abolished, and the various necessary services to the Indian discontinued (Affairs and Representatives 1944:336).

In 1947, in the Hearings before the Committee on Civil Service, Senator Ecton stated that among the many things that “the Indian” wanted, education, medicine, sanitation, water and land, that freedom was also desired:

Senator Ecton. Senator, there is one other thing the Indian wants. He wants his freedom.

Senator Chavez. Yes. Outside of that, he wants to be left alone.

Senator Baldwin. In short he wants to be considered as any other American citizen and have the same opportunities (Committee on Civil Service 1947:94).



Interestingly enough Native people had been granted citizenship in 1924 by the Congress, but, reservation Indians were not allowed to leave the reservations without passes until 1933, by BIA regulations. Therefore, Native people had been increasingly assimilating into American society Americans for over 20 years at the time of the 1947 hearings.

In the debates about the freedom of Indians, in Congress, there was little self-evaluation on the part of Senators of their own culpability in the system which had disempowered and impoverished the reservation Indians. In a rare revealing moment, Senator Ecton points out that the limitations on Indian programs are the fault of Congressional policies:

Mr. Zimmerman, I think we all recognize that you and your department have been governed to a great extent by the policy laid down by Congress… (Committee on Civil Service 1947:95).


Later Senator Ecton continues:

I do not think we can do away with the Indian Department, and throw them all out on their own immediately. I do not think any of us believe in that. These older Indians who have always been wards of the Government and have looked to you for aid and assistance, would not know what to do without it. Therefore, we will have to take care of those  (Committee on Civil Service 1947:95).


Unfortunately Senator Ecton’s sympathy for native peoples was not carried into the 1950’s for the terminated tribes.

Public Perceptions: Freedom


During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Indian Office and Congress were following the assimilation plan by attempting to either assimilate Indians or promote self-governance depending on the administrations that was in charge at the time. Finally, when assimilation was not working and many tribes refused to take part in the Indian Reorganization Act, Congress began making plans for a liquidation of tribal assets in preparation for the liquidation of the Indian Office.

The Congressional action of terminating tribes began, in rhetoric, as a way that the federal government could “help Indians gain greater freedom and self-sufficiency.”  The actual reason for termination was not to free Indians of anything, but to instead liberate their lands from government restrictions and to bring their untapped resources into the American economy. Donald Fixico summarizes the Federal government’s reasons for severing of Indian-federal relationships aptly:

In bringing this relationship to an end, federal officials hoped to free government restrictions on Indian lands and properties, and to end expensive services to the Indian population (Fixico 1989:137-145).


Regarding the freeing of Indians Donald Fixico writes:


The legislation of termination came about when a certain bloc of congressmen quietly pushed the measure through Congress. Primarily from western states containing reservation lands, these individuals, surprisingly few in number, convinced the rest of their colleagues that termination would reform Indian livelihood. Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Nevada, Senator Patrick McCarran of Nevada, and Representative E. Y. Berry of South Dakota led this movement in congress and the resolution was approved in July, 1953 (Fixico 1989:137-145).


The western congressmen had a clear purpose, to free land and resources so that there would be renewed vigor in their state economies. Other congressmen were convinced because of a number of these important issues in the Unites States during the 1940s and 1950’s; the amount of government money spent on relatively few people, the post-war economy, the assumption of equality in American society, and a lack of understanding of tribal sovereignty.

In the 1940s the BIA began a campaign of influencing tribal members to support termination.  During the decade, the BIA employed an education campaign to address the benefits of assimilation and impending liquidation to children in reservation and off-reservation schools. The Indian Office also was working with tribal councils to influence them into thinking that termination was an inevitable occurrence.

In the early 1950s the U.S. Government through the Indian Office began a public media campaign. The campaign was successful and was reported upon by many of the Oregon newspapers including the leading newspaper in the region, The Oregonian. What the government sought was wide-scale support from the public, from state officials, from the American Indians, and from congressional colleagues.

The Indian Office and Congressional rhetoric of “Freedom” projected an image to the American people that they were freeing the Indians from their problems. The language of freedom began with Congressional discussions in 1944-1947 and was used politically to influence and gather support for terminating tribes among other Congressmen. The concept was later carried to the press, who used the concept of freedom in reporting the process of termination. On February 1952, the Oregonian presented these questions:

[Headline] Oregon Indians Express Views on Impending Emancipation,

How will the Indians themselves feel about their impending emancipation? Where and how do these Indians live? How will they benefit from full freedom? (Oregonian 1952a).


In the Oregonian newspaper in February 1952 the freedom rhetoric is used to support the idea of termination of the Klamath Reservation:

[Headline] Klamath Indians in Line to Get Citizenship Right– Salem, Feb. 16 (AP) Complete freedom for the Klamath Indian Tribe’s 1900 members, who live on a prosperous 1,000,000-acre reservation appears likely after winning the unanimous approval at Friday’s conferences of federal and state Indian affairs officials and tribal leaders…. This committee will draft the necessary bill so that the 1953 legislature could take over the Indians as free citizens of Oregon…. E. Morgan Pryse, Portland area director of the United States Indian service, said the government is anxious to give all Indians their freedom…. Governor Douglas McKay, who presided at the meeting said the plan might pave the way for all Oregon Indians to become free citizens (Oregonian 1952b).


The freedom notion used here is a politically expedient concept that is used to garner support from the public. In the 1950s Indian termination paralleled several other national civil rights struggles and so the concept held weight with many areas of society. Some of the language crafted for the newspaper article spurs questions about the meaning of phrases like “complete freedom” and in the final statement Governor McKay hedges the potential success of the legislation with the word “might” in reference to Indians becoming free citizens. The article does not end with the same positivistic attitude that it begins with.

It is also understandable that the original intentions of Congress changed during the process of discussing Indian termination. When we have looked closely at the discussions that took place in Congress in 1944 to 1947, we can see how those discussions and the proposed future legislation changed. Early promises from the BIA suggested that the tribes would retain their timber lands, and it is understandable that western Oregon Indian people truly believed that they would be able to retain their rich timberlands after termination.

In 1952, the Oregonian  published statements from prominent Indian leaders of the western Oregon tribes (Oregonian 1952a). In this article, all of these prominent tribal leaders agreed to termination and appeared to believe that they would retain their timberlands:

John “Mose” Hudson an elder of the Grand Ronde confederation, for example, generally endorses the plan. “Its just 100 years too late, that’s all.” Hudson said. “Many of our old people died of broken hearts because of the way they were treated.” William Simmons, who at 82 maintains an articulate and sprightly interest in Grand Ronde affairs, thinks the full and complete emancipation will be a fine thing for the younger generation. A nondrinker, Simmons maintains, with complete justification, that federal liquor regulations in regard to Indians are outmoded and discriminatory. “That was the worst thing they ever did,” said Simmons. Coquelle Thompson, a leader of the coast Indians, and an ex-OSC football star, thinks federal withdrawal will be a healthy thing for all concerned (Oregonian 1952a).


Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay also released statements that suggested that he believed that Indians were going to be freed. McKay’s are represented in statement in answer to Mr. Oliver La Farge, November 30, 1955:

You also talk about “the present administrative tendency to see the solution of the Indian problem in the dispersal of Indian communities.” As Commissioner Emmons and others have repeatedly emphasized, this is not the policy of the present Administration. We believe in freedom of movement and freedom of choice for the Indian people. We believe also that the problem of a rapidly growing Indian population on a fixed, and largely inadequate, land base will lead many Indians in the future, as it has led many in the past, to seek a livelihood away from the reservations. Our primary concern is to assist this voluntary movement and guide it along constructive channels. But we are not seeking a solution by trying to break up Indian communities (McKay 1955).


While Secretary McKay does point out a fundamental problem that caused poverty amongst tribes, the loss of land, his assertion that the administration is really only aiding the Indians along the path they were already headed truly is a blind perversion of the historical facts of the disempowerment of Indian communities nationwide. What is ignored by Secretary McKay is that the federal government’s continual attempts to take land away from tribes have caused the “inadequate land base” that Indians find themselves attempting to live upon. While it is the case that many Indians were moving away from reservation, the movement was propelled by government policies of assimilation, reinforced by BIA education policies which instilled assimilation into the curriculum, and the fact that many Indian could not return to the reservation to gain an allotment because federal government Indian allotment policies required at least one half Indian blood quantum in order for an Indian to obtain an allotment.[8] These issues forced many Indians to leave the reservation for their basic survival. The combination of the government policies of assimilation and stingy Indian land allotment policies became a successful scheme that disenfranchised many Indians, over the course of 60 years (~1887-1950s), from their tribal communities.[9] In addition, the 1954 termination acts for Oregon were designed to take away most of the tribal lands.



The history of termination and the complex matrix of Indian issues and Indian problems offers many reasons who termination was needed by the United States. Termination would solve the main problem of there being Indians for the United States to provide services for. But Congress had to devise a couple good reasons why termination was a necessity. Economic issues were a good reason as the United States stood to make billions at the very least on the resources on reservations.  This argument was sufficient to mobilize some senators to support the policy. Congress also made some well receive human reasons why termination was necessary. The freedom of Indians from further oppression was a very good reason which had currency in American society with its associations with the freedom of other ethnic minorities, namely Blacks. But this was not quite sufficient and so Congress adopted a pseudo scientific justification, that Indians were assimilated enough to service in American society. This justification was built upon the experiences of Indian war volunteers and the apparent successes of some tribes.

Congress did not truly investigate the reservations to see if the Indian people were able to assimilate with the same alacrity as some soldiers or tribal organizations. In addition, the original justifications, to free Indians to manage their own affairs, did not actually occur as the final termination bills did not allow for the tribes to keep their land or allotments. Therefore despite all of the good intentions to free Indians, to help them assimilate faster and to allow them to manage their own affairs, Indians were cast into society much the same as newly arrived immigrants from other countries. Terminated Indians began their new lives with no resources, no land, nothing to account for their century of work to provide for their families to build their farms, to practice their cultures, and to grow their personal and tribal wealth. The final outcome of the justifications is that they were based on political arguments, which were expedient for the time but did nothing to truly free anyone from their “Indian problems.” Termination added to and placed many tribal members in more problematic situations than they had ever before experienced. Once terminated many tribal peoples were impoverished, had no health care, no services, lost culture, and were much worse off than ever before on the reservations.  Ultimately there has been a long term effect on tribal identity, tribal community tribal culture which will take many decades to correct and restore.




Affairs, Committee on Indian, and House of Representatives

1943    H. Res. 166, A Bill to Authorize and Direct and Conduct an Investigation to Determine Whether the Changed Status of the Indian Requires a Revision of the Laws and Regulations Affecting the American Indian. In Hearings before the Committee of Indian Affairs, House of Representatives, 78th Congress, 1st session. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

1944    H. Res. 166, A Bill to Authorize and Direct and Conduct an Investigation to Determine Whether the Changed Status of the Indian Requires a Revision of the Laws and Regulations Affecting the American Indian. In Hearings before the Committee of Indian Affairs, House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

1945    H. Rept. No. 2091, 78th Cong., 2nd sess. Majority Report by James F. Connor, Chairman, Karl E. Mundt, Vice-Chairman, Antonio Fernandez, John R. Murdock. In H. Res. 166, Hearing Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Indian Affairs House of Representatives, 78th Congress, 2nd sess. Part 4, Washington, D.C. December 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 13, 1944 Washington, D.C.: GPO.

Affairs, Committee on Interior and Insular, and House of Representatives

1957    Columbia Basin Project Act Amendment, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, 85th Congress, first session, on H.R. 4802 and H.R. 4919, to amend certain provisions of the Columbia Basin Project Act, and for other purposes. In Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. 85th Congress. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

Barber, Katrine

2005    Death of Celilo Falls. Seattle: Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Press.

Burt, Larry W.

1982    Tribalism in Crisis : Federal Indian Policy, 1953-1961. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Collection, Southwest Oregon Research Project

1995-Present   Correspondence Collection, Coll. 268, Series 2. R. Bureau of Indian Affairs, ed. Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon Libraries and Archives, National Archives Records Administration.

Collier, John

1962    on the Gleaming Way: Navajos, Eastern Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Apaches, and their land; and their meanings to the world. Denver,: Sage Books.

Committee on Civil Service, United States Senate

1947    S. Res. 41, A Resolution to Investigate Certain Matters Relating to Officers and Employees of the Federal Government. In Hearings before the Committee on Civil Service, United States Senate, 80th Congress, 1st session, part 1. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

Dupris, Joseph C., Kathleen S. Hill, and William H. Rodgers

2006    The Si’lailo way : Indians, Salmon, and Law on the Columbia River. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.

Fixico, Donald Lee

1986    Termination and Relocation : Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

1989    Tribal Governments and the Struggle Against Termination. In The Struggle for Political Autonomy, Papers and Comments from the Newberry Library Conference on Themes in American Indian History, Vol. Occasional Papers in Curriculum Chicago, Illinois: D’Arcy McNickle Center, Newberry Library.

Haynal, Patrick Mann

1986    The Impact of Termination on the Klamath Sociocultural System. MA, San Diego State University.

Holm, Martin N. B.

1955a  Correspondence from Martin N. B. Holm, Acting Area Director, to Commissioner, Bureau of Indian Affairs, April 1, 1955. In RG 75, Vol. Box 33. Seattle: National Archives Records Administration, Northwest Region.

1955b  Report of Trips to Grand Ronde, Siletz, and Salem, Oregon from Martin N. B. Holm to Mr. Foster: February 5, 1955. In RG 75, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Portland Area Office Records. Seattle: National Archives Records Administration, Northwest Regional Repository.

Kennedy, Cheryle

2006    Interview about Termination. D. Lewis, ed. Grand Ronde, Oregon.

Lewis, David G.

2001    Southwest Oregon Research Project: Inventory to the Archival Collection. Eugene: University of Oregon Library System.

2002    Native Experiences and Perspectives as Revealed in the Indian Correspondence in the SWORP Archival Collection In Changing Landscapes. R. Losie, ed, Vol. 3. North Bend, OR: Coquille Indian Tribe.

Lewis, David G., and Deanna Kingston

2007    Oregon Native Language Archival Resources In Teaching Oregon Native Languages. J. Gross, ed. Corvallis: OSU Press.

Lomawaima, K. Tsianina

1994    They Called it Prairie Light : the Story of Chilocco Indian School. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

McKay, Douglas

1955    Correspondence of November 30, 1955, Secretary Douglas McKay to Mr. Oliver La Farge. In Senator Neuberger Papers. Eugene: Division of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon.

McNickle, D’Arcy

1962    The Indian Tribes of the United States : Ethnic and Cultural Survival. London ; New York: Oxford University Press.


1952a  Guardianship of Indian to end after 100 years, Oregon Indians Express Views on Impending Emancipation. In The Oregonian. Portland Oregon.

1952b  Klamath Indians in Line to Get Citizenship Right. In The Oregonian. Portland Oregon.

Pryse, E. Morgan

1953    Proposed Withdrawal of Federal Responsibilities Over the Property and Affairs of the Indians of Western Oregon. In RG 75, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Portland Area Office Records, Series 1. B.o.I. Affairs, ed. Seattle: National Archives Records Administration, Northwest Regional Repository.

Senate, United States

1947    Interior Department Appropriations Bill for 1947, Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. S.o.t.C.o. Appropriations, ed. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

Senese, Guy B.

1991    Self-Determination and the Social Education of Native Americans. New York: Praeger.

Thomas, Elmer

1943    Survey of Conditions Among the Indians of the United States: Analysis of the statement of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in justification of Appropriations for 1944, and the Liquidation of the Indian Bureau, Partial Report. H.o.R. Committee on Indian Affairs, ed. Pp. 21. United States Senate. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Three, Task Force, and American Indian Policy Review Commission

1976    Report on Federal Administration and Structure of Indian Affairs : Federal Administration and Structure of Indian Affairs. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

Tom, Bob

2006    Interview about Termination. D. Lewis, ed. Salem, Oregon.

Vizenor, Gerald Robert

1994    Manifest Manners : Postindian Warriors of Survivance. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

Washburn, Wilcomb E.

1975    The Assault on Indian Tribalism: The General Allotment Law (Dawes Act) of 1887. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company.



[1] Many of the poor workers were Indians who had low blood quantum and could not be a member of a federally recognized tribe according to Indian Affairs policies. There is very little research on this phenomenon although we know that Will Rogers was part of this migration and he admitted coming from Cherokee, Oklahoma and admitted to being Cherokee. In addition, the woman and family pictured in Migrant Madonna were Indian. Some of this is mentioned in T.  Lomawaima’s “They call it Prairie Light” (1995) where she mentions how the migrants would have their children placed in Indian Boarding schools so they could get food and education, while the family “migrated” to find work.


[2] The dam was completed in 1957. The dam caused the destruct of Celilo falls as a fishing area above the dam, where tribes had used that area for as long as 10,000 years. Celilo village was also destroyed.


[3] See chapter 4 for more on assimilation.


[4] No other ethnic or cultural group of people in the United States are managed politically and legally through their assumed cultural characteristics.


[5] It is stated afterward that Senator Thomas’s statements were mistakenly submitted, however this is still a relevant mindset for the time period.


[6] Oral history in conversations with elders at Grand Ronde, 2006-2007.


[7] Freedom of religion was not allowed for American Indians until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, 1978.


[8] Fully implemented in the Dawes Indian Allotment Act, 1887.


[9] Roughly the period of the Dawes Act to termination proceedings.


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