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The policies of the United States regarding American Indians have generally been based on two interlocked approaches: ideological and theological. During the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, Indian affairs were guided by an ideology based on the concept of private property and a theology based on Christianity. Thus the formation of  Indian policies required no actual understanding of American Indians.

Multimillionaire steel baron Andrew Carnegie cheerfully pronounced that “Individualism, Private Property, the Law of Accumulation of Wealth, and the Law of Competition” were the very height of human achievement. Politicians and Indian reformers simply sought to apply these to the Indian tribes with no real understanding of tribal cultures. Privatizing Indian land through the Allotment Act of 1887 was done through adherence to this ideology. It was felt that this would force Indians into the modern world and enable them and their children to have a future. The more practical realized that this would simply separate the Indians from their land and allow large corporate interests to prosper.

By the 1920s it was obvious to the most casual observer that there were major economic, social, and health problems on the reservations. America’s prosperity was not reaching Indian people. The poverty on the reservations was undeniable to any who had even a casual relationship with them.

In 1923 an elite panel known as the Committee of 100 was convened to advise on Indian policy. The Committee supported the goal of assimilation, but called for a greater sensitivity to Indian customs and the protection of tribal land. The following year, the Committee of 100 recommended that Indian education be improved with better school facilities, better trained personnel, an increase in the number of students in public schools, and scholarships for high school and college.

In 1926 Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work authorized an economic and social study of Indian conditions. Lewis Meriam led the study for the Institute for Government Research, a privately endowed foundation (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation). To conduct the research, Meriam put together a team of specialists from various disciplines, including some Native Americans. Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago), a graduate of Yale University, served as the Indian adviser.

Henry Roe Cloud

Henry Roe Cloud is shown above.

The research team conducted field work in 23 states, selected because they had more than 1,000 Native American inhabitants. They visited 95 reservations, agencies, hospitals, and schools.

In 1928, Meriam’s study entitled The Problem of Indian Administration (more commonly called the Meriam Report) was published. This was the most comprehensive study of Indian reservations ever done. The report strongly repudiated the philosophy of Indian policy which had prevailed since 1871.

While there were, and still are, many people who feel that poverty is a condition which Indian people have brought upon themselves, and that government policies can neither ameliorate nor create poverty, the report states:

“Several past policies adopted by the government in dealing with the Indians have been of a type which, if long continued, would tend to pauperize any race.”
Beginning in 1871, Indian policy in the United States had been guided by the ideology of private property, that only through private property could Indians (and all other people) prosper and that economic development should be based on small, privately owned family farms. According to the report:
“It almost seems as if the government assumed that some magic in individual ownership of property would in itself prove an educational civilizing factor, but unfortunately this policy has for the most part operated in the opposite direction.”
The report also states:
“In justice to the Indians it should be said that many of them are living on lands from which a trained and experienced white man could scarcely wrest a reasonable living. In some instances the land originally set apart for the Indians was of little value for agricultural operations other than grazing.”
The Meriam Report recognized the economic potential of Indian arts and crafts. The report recommended that the Indian Office coordinate the marketing of Indian arts and crafts so that genuineness, quality, and fair prices could be maintained. Indian arts and crafts were seen as a way of improving the social and economic conditions on the reservations.

The report also recommended that tribes be incorporated and that the tribal councils be given some decision-making powers.

The goals of Indian education during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were to convert Indian children to Christianity; to give them Christian names, particularly surnames, so that the inheritance of property could be easily traced; to provide them with the concept of greed; and to train them as laborers and household workers. Education was often carried out through boarding schools in which Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes and the influences of their cultures. With the Meriam Report the non-Indian public is made aware of kidnapping, child labor, emotional and physical abuse, and lack of health care in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. While the report draws attention to abuses, the assimilationist po¬licies of Indian education continues for another 40 years.

The report is particu¬larly critical of the boarding schools:

“The survey staff finds itself obligated to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”
While Indian education has often assumed that Indians are to be trained for manual labor, the report states:
“The Indian Service should encourage promising Indian youths to continue their education beyond the boarding schools and to fit themselves for professional, scientific, and technical callings. Not only should the educational facilities of the boarding schools provide definitely for fitting them for college entrance, but the Service should aid them in meeting the costs.”
With regard to religion, the report urges the continuation of cooperation with Christian missionaries, but cautions:
“The missionaries need to have a better understanding of the Indian point of view of the Indian’s religion and ethics, in order to start from what is good in them as a foundation. Too frequently, they have made the mistake of attempting to destroy the existing structure and to substitute something else without apparently realizing that much in the old has its place in the new.”
With regard to Indian health, the report simply stated:
“The health of the Indians compared with that of the general population is bad.”
According to the report, the general death rate and the infant mortality rate were high. Tuberculosis and trachoma (a disease that produces blindness) were very prevalent. With regard to the health care services provided to Indians by the government, the report states:
“The hospitals, sanatoria, and sanatorium schools maintained by the Service, despite a few exceptions, must generally be characterized as lacking in personnel, equipment, management, and design”
According to the report, the government-run health care institutions do not provide adequate care for their patients.

Overall, the Meriam Report set the stage for a new era in Indian policy, an era in which policy could be based on actual data rather than ideological or theological fantasies. Some of the Report’s recommendations were incorporated into the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

Native American Netroots Web BadgeCross Posted at Native American Netroots

 An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.


Originally posted to Native American Netroots on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 09:32 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Invisible People, and Pink Clubhouse.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Indians 101/201 (23+ / 0-)

    is a series exploring American Indian histories, cultures, arts, biographies, and current concerns. It is posted here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Indians 201 is an expansion and/or revision of an earlier essay.

    For more about Indian histories:

    Indian Shakers Fight for Religious Freedom

    The Remoal of the Ponca Indians

    The Navajo Long Walk

    Genocide in Northern California

  •  Gee, Carnegie sounds like a Koch brother, big (4+ / 0-)

    surprise there.

    So the Koch brothers had a mentor and real experience to draw on for their dystopian fantasies.

    As always, thanks for the diary Ojibwa. I haven't been passing through dKos as much, (post-election burnout), but I still catch your diaries when I do enter the Orange World.

    "Yes, reason has been a part of organized religion, ever since two nudists took dietary advice from a talking snake." - Jon Stewart; The Daily Show

    by Uwaine on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 10:07:22 AM PST

    •  Not to distract from the diary but the Kochs (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, cotterperson, Uwaine, aliasalias

      have no right to compare themselves to Carnegie. Carnegie was an immigrant who came here with nothing and made his fortune. The Koch's were handed theirs on a silver platter, hell -- a whole silver service for twenty. And Carnegie gave huge sums of money to charities, founded libraries and promoted science. The Kochs deny global warming. The Kochs only have money and unscrupulous business practices to compare themselves with Carnegie. And unlike Carnegie, a hundred years after their deaths nobody will be talking about them.

      What's wrong with America? I'll tell you. Everything Romney said was pre-chewed wads of cud from Republicans from the last 30 years and yet he managed thru a combination of racism and selling the (false) hope of riches to get 47% of the national vote.

      by ontheleftcoast on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 10:37:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  we debated in college philos study group (6+ / 0-)

    Aristotle: "What is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than for what they possess in common with others." in context of this policy for Indians.

    Most students ignored the obvious goal of corporate land grab in the name of $$$ and racism.

    It was first argued that Indians should not have have "special rights" of common ownership.

    I responded that there were numerous forms of common or community ownership, such as public ownership of parks and wilderness, public trust in navigable waters and natural resources, some forms of corporate or business ownership.

    This point was conceded ...followed by common ownership sucks, claiming we have air and water and ocean pollution due to common ownership and things need to be privatized because government sucks at taking care of common resources.

    I lost here. I argued that government just got the right not so long ago to regulate pollution with clean water act, and that corporations pollute rather than pay for waste disposal etc.

    That was the 80s. i often wondered whether i could have better made my point now with internet research so easy. i don't think it would have mattered.  

    "It is in the shelter of each other that people live." Irish Proverb

    by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 10:46:25 AM PST

  •  From what reading I have done (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    which is still relatively small, wasn't (and isn't) the private property idea anathema to most Native Americans both during the colonial period, throughout removal to reservations and onward based on the non-concept of "possession," i.e., ownership? That is, the concept that is alien to the European mindset (and still is in most cases) that there is an actual connection between beings in the present and ancestors, and between beings and the environment (meaning all of it), all of nature and humanity being "alive" and contiguously present, makes impossible a merging of the cultures as long as the dictating mindset is unable to grasp the nature of a unified view of people living in their environment. Clearly, my language is challenged because it's hard enough to get language around this, let alone my relatively pea-sized brain in matters spiritual.  Welcome any help here. Thank you.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 12:02:28 PM PST

  •  reread the 'Genocide in Northern California' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, aliasalias

    hadn't read it when you wrote it...and have since been moving to there and have found out about the genocide, the bounties and the slavery.

    It is despicable and still a local shame, so much so that it is brought up in conversations such as 'yeah those people are so nice there (sarcasm) that they are all still living on land they stole from the Indians they killed in the 1800's.'...and the like.

    The wikipedia articles are also laced with the very thin justifications that there was some cattle rustling, as if that justified any of it....and also the claim that there were white people in active resistance to it, at least politically..

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 03:09:33 PM PST

    •  Genocide (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, aliasalias

      I do have a new essay on genocide ready to go. I'm not sure when it will be posted here (I'm usually working 10-12 diaries out). It should come up as a part of the Indians 101 series.

      Looking at the numerous conflicts—military, religious, social, economic, linguistic—between the Native peoples of North America and the invading Europeans, it is not uncommon for writers to describe these conflicts with the word “genocide.” At the same time, there are many who vehemently deny that there was any genocide and feel strongly that genocide is not a concept which should be applied to the conflicts between European nations and Indian nations or between the United States and Indian nations. To look at the possibility of genocide, we must first start with a definition of the concept and then look at the historical evidence.
  •  One example of how stupid our laws (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    toward Indians were was pointed out to me as a teenager.

    A friends dad was a civil servant in charge of a high school on an Indian reservation. A nice darkroom had been built and equipped for the students but he wasn't allowed to offer any classes in photography. It had sat unused for a year.

    He let me use the darkroom. In return I got it up and running and showed some of the students how to use it. Without me doing it for free it would have never been used. It had top of the line enlargers and equipment but was of no use until I helped out.

    He could have been in trouble if higher ups heard of what we did so I could not tell anyone.

    Our money system is not what we have been led to believe. The creation of money has been "privatized," or taken over by private money lenders. Thomas Jefferson called them “bold and bankrupt adventurers just pretending to have money.” webofdebt

    by arealniceguy on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 10:56:14 PM PST

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