English colonists, and then citizens of the new United States of America, regarded Native Americans as foreign groups, people of other lands. It’s part of a history of bad relations and bad faith between peoples on this continent that we gloss over with the good relations and good faith.
On June 2, 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. The right to vote, however, was governed by state law; until 1957, some states barred Native Americans from voting. In a WPA interview from the 1930s, Henry Mitchell describes the attitude toward Native Americans in Maine, one of the last states to comply with the Indian Citizenship Act:
One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the city hall about voting. I don’t know just what position that official had over there, but he said to the Indian, ‘We don’t want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.
‘”The Life of Henry Mitchell,”
Old Town, Maine,
Robert Grady, interviewer,
American Life Histories, 1936-1940
Native Americans During Mathematics Class at Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Native Americans During Mathematics Class, (detail)
Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania,
Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer, 1903.
Prints and Photographs Division
Previously, the Dawes Severalty Act (1887) had shaped U.S. policy towards Native Americans. In accordance with its terms, and hoping to turn Indians into farmers, the federal government redistributed tribal lands to heads of families in 160-acre allotments. Unclaimed or “surplus” land was sold, and the proceeds used to establish Indian schools where Native-American children learned reading, writing, and the domestic and social systems of white America. By 1932, the sale of both unclaimed land and allotted acreage resulted in the loss of two-thirds of the 138 million acres that Native Americans had held prior to the Dawes Act.
In addition to the extension of voting rights to Native Americans, the Secretary of the Interior commission created the Meriam Commission to assess the impact of the Dawes Act. Completed in 1928, the Meriam Report described how government policy oppressed Native Americans and destroyed their culture and society.
The poverty and exploitation resulting from the paternalistic Dawes Act spurred passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. This legislation promoted Native-American autonomy by prohibiting allotment of tribal lands, returning some surplus land, and urging tribes to engage in active self-government. Rather than imposing the legislation on Native Americans, individual tribes were allowed to accept or reject the Indian Reorganization Act. From 1934 to 1953, the U.S. government invested in the development of infrastructure, health care, and education, and the quality of life on Indian lands improved. With the aid of federal courts and the government, over two million acres of land were returned to various tribes.
American Indians of the Pacific Northwest
Salish Man Named Paul Challae and Small Child,
Salish Man and Woman Sitting on Rocks, Montana (?) (date unknown.)
Salish Man and Woman Sitting on Rocks,
Salish Woman and Children
Salish Woman and Children,
St. Ignatius Mission, Montana.
American Indians of the Pacific Northwest integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to Native Americans of two cultural areas of the Pacific Northwest. Many aspects of life and work — including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment, are illustrated in this collection drawn from the extensive holdings of the University of Washington Libraries, the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.
- Listen to Native American music. Omaha Indian Music features traditional Omaha music from the 1890s and 1980s. The multiformat ethnographic field collection contains 44 wax cylinder recordings collected by Francis La Flesche and Alice Cunningham Fletcher between 1895 and 1897, 323 songs and speeches from the 1983 Omaha harvest celebration pow-wow, and 25 songs and speeches from the 1985 Hethu’shka Society concert at the Library of Congress. Search by keyword or browse the list of recorded music.
- View photographs documenting Native American life in the 1930s and 1940s. Search the collection, America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945 on reservation or Indian.
- George Washington Papers, 1741-1799 includes many references to Indian treaties and rights; to explore this aspect of Washington’s correspondence, search the collection on Indian rights and Indian treaties.
- Words and Deeds in American History contains three features highlighting aspects of Native American history in the Northern and Central U.S.
- Search the Today in History archive on Native American to read additional features including pages on Jim Thorpe, the Cherokee chief John Ross, the Paiute writer and translator Sarah Winnemucca, and the Wounded Knee Massacre.
- Photographs from the Chicago Daily News includes images of Native Americans.
- Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian: Photographic Images collection portrays the traditional customs and lifeways of eighty Indian tribes.
- The History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library includes images of Native Americans from more than forty tribes living west of the Mississippi River.
And doesn’t that just frost the tar out of the birthers? Herbert Hoover just five years later chose Charles Curtis to be his vice presidential candidate, and Curtis served for four years. Curtis, born in the Kansas Territory before it was a state, came from Native American ancestry.