|Lecture 100: The Development and Implementation of
Termination Policy, 1944-1968
Scarcely a decade had passed when critics began to demand that the programs of the “Indian New Deal” be repealed. Their opposition to Collier’s reforms had both philosophical and practical roots. Few of the legislators of the 1940s, even those who had supported the Indian Reorganization Act, had been enthusiastic advocates of the idea of cultural pluralism which was the foundation of Collier’s proposals; many people had supported the reform legislation without rejecting the principle of assimilation, and their frustration with the outcome of the “Indian New Deal” was directly related to the fact that its programs had not brought more success in assimilation. At the same time, the reforms had not proved to be a panacea for the problems of Indian administration: they had reduced neither the cost of federal services to Indians nor the size of the bureaucracy which administered them. It should have been no surprise that, after a century of assimilation policy and fifty years of allotment, most Indians did not make an immediate transition to successful, independent self-government or that, in a depression period, few reservation economies became prosperous or even self-sufficient. Yet the fact that Collier’s policy had not accomplished this transformation was soon accepted as proof that the programs had been poorly designed and the policy had largely failed.
Out of this dissatisfaction, the policy of termination was forged in the decade from 1943 to 1953. It was time, many Americans felt, to get the government “out of the Indian business.” The trust relationship designed to protect Indian lands was, they argued, “demeaning” to Indian self-respect. It was also undeniably expensive. Encouraging Indians to maintain and revive traditional customs was, according to this view, a poor way to prepare them for the responsibilities of American citizenship, and the New Deal programs nourished a growing bureaucracy which had a vested interest in perpetuating such programs The solution to all of these failures seemed simple: withdraw federal services from Indians as rapidly as possible, require Indians to succeed on their own, and end, once and for all, the “Indian problem” which had vexed the country for centuries. So Congress demanded, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs furnished, lists of tribes ready for termination, federal programs which could be eliminated, and services which could be transferred to state and local agencies.
As termination became the dominant goal of Indian policy, other programs were reinterpreted. Continuing reservation development projects, Indian health services, and education programs were reappraised and in some cases redesigned to prepare Indians for rapid termination. The Indian Claims Commission, established in 1946 to provide legal redress for tribes whose lands and resources had been taken illegally, quickly came to be seen as a source of funds which would eventually eliminate the need for federal services, as well as a means of ending the government’s obligation to maintain its “special relationship” with Indians. The relocation program, intended to provide technical training and urban employment for Indians, complemented the goals of termination programs by encouraging assimilation and independent economic development.
The failure of termination programs, however, was diagnosed more quickly than the failure of allotment policy. Only a year after House Concurrent Resolution 108 and Public Law 280 had established termination as the official policy of the United States, opposition began to mount. By the early 1960s, it had become apparent that the largest and most successful tribes terminated in the 1950s--the Klamath and the Menominee-- had been seriously injured by the process. Instead of reducing the cost of Indian programs and eliminating federal bureaucracy, termination too often destroyed promising reservation economies and transferred the burden of providing services to state and local agencies, public assistance programs, and private trustees. At the same time, as the country became more receptive to the idea of cultural pluralism, the government’s insistence on forced assimilation began to seem naive, misguided, and impractical. Thus, although the government did not officially repudiate the policy of termination until 1968, Indian policy in the late 1950s and early 196Os reflected a tentative rejection of that goal and an increased emphasis on such objectives as reservation development and Indian self-government.
Lecture 100: The Development and Implementation of
Termination Policy, 1944-1968
I. The Roots of Termination Policy
A. Congressional efforts to redirect Indian policy, begun in the Collier
administration, increased after the commissioner’s resignation in 1945.
1. In interviewing William Brophy, the man nominated to replace Collier,
congressmen clearly indicated that they would expect the new
commissioner to follow their directives, not to develop an independent
2. Congressional dissatisfaction with the Indian Reorganization Act and the
related policies implemented by Collier had both practical and
a. The idea of cultural pluralism on which Collier’s programs were
based had not been widely accepted, even by supporters of the
Indian Reorganization Act.
(1) In 1944 a House committee concluded, after an
investigation of Indian affairs, that the goal of policy should
be the eventual assimilation of Indians into non-Indian
(2) In 1948 the Hoover Commission reasserted assimilation as
the goal of United States Indian policy.
b. The programs of the Indian Reorganization Act had not reduced
the cost of Indian service, slowed the growth of the Indian service
bureaucracy, or eliminated the need for federal Indian programs as
rapidly as many proponents had hoped they would.
B. A group of church organizations campaigned against Collier’s reform programs in
the mid-l940s; their efforts, many of which were based on a biased and inaccurate
report, helped to create public demand to “free” the Indian from supposedly
demeaning federal trusteeship (Debo, pp. 349-50).
1. Some church groups which had consistently opposed native customs and
institutions objected strenuously to the Indian Reorganization Act.
2. In 1944 a group of women’s organizations affiliated with the National
Council of Churches commissioned a self-proclaimed expert to undertake
a study of the Indians. The author of the study, who began with a clear bias
against “Indian ness,” concluded that the New Deal programs should be
3. That report gave weight to a popular misconception of the Indian’s legal
status, which led to demands that Indians be “freed” from a demeaning
relationship with the federal government.
a. Describing the Indians as “wards,” the report played on the
unfavorable connotations of that term to suggest that federal
programs destroyed Indian initiative and self-respect.
b. The concept of wardship, first articulated in Justice Marshall’s
ruling in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, had been applied legally to
the relation between tribes and the federal government, not to the
status of individual Indians.
c. In this report and in public opinion, however, the concept of
“wardship” (a legal relationship which involves control over
persons) was equated with “trusteeship” (a contractual relationship
involving lands and property). The terms were used
interchangeably to suggest unwarranted government interference in
the lives of adult citizens.
C. The events of World War II and the post-war period helped to alter the direction
of Indian policy.
1. Funding for New Deal social programs, including programs specifically
designed to deal with Indian problems, was severely reduced.
2. During the war, many Indians served in the military or found jobs in
related industries. Their success encouraged proponents of assimilation
policy to develop programs based on industrial and technical training.
3. War-time employment had increased Indian income and improved the
standard of living on many reservations, but this economic growth was
difficult to maintain in the post-war years.
D. The Indian Claims Commission established in August 1946 eventually came to be
seen as a significant factor in the elimination of federal services to Indians.
1. The idea of a commission which would hear tribal claims against the
United States had been proposed by reformers in the l920s and advocated
by both Rhoads and Collier, but Congress did not establish the
commission until after Collier’s resignation.
2. The commission was originally intended to redress previous injustices by
offering monetary compensation for the losses Indians had incurred
through illegal appropriation of their lands and resources.
3. Although it was established for reasons unrelated to termination, the
Claims Commission eventually offered both philosophical and practical
justification for the withdrawal of federal services.
a. As long as Indians had legitimate claims against the United States,
the government had an implicit moral obligation to maintain a
‘‘special relationship’’ with the Indians; by redressing those
grievances, the government could free itself of that burden.
b. The substantial cash settlements awarded by the Claims
Commission were expected to give the tribes a basis from which
viable economies would develop; the resulting economic self-
sufficiency would allow drastic reduction and eventual elimination
of federal Indian programs.
E. Although the development of the relocation program, like the establishment of the
Claims Commission, was not originally connected to the goal of termination,
policy-makers eventually linked the two programs.
1. The relocation program grew Out of Indian success in urban industrial jobs
during World War II.
2. In 1948 the Bureau of Indian Affairs instituted a limited program designed
to provide industrial training and off-reservation employment for the
Navajo and Hopi.
3. In 1949 Congress approved the first of a series of appropriations to expand
that limited program to other tribes and a broader area.
a. With congressional funding, the bureau established a series of
placement centers to handle Indian relocation.
b. By 1952 a special department within the Bureau of Indian Affairs
supervised a nationwide Indian relocation program.
c. From 1953 to 1956, Congress approved annual appropriations of
$567,000 for the program; in the following year, the appropriation
4. The goals of the relocation program--assimilation and economic self-
sufficiency--were in harmony with the concept of termination. Thus
relocation came to be seen as a supportive program which would lead to the eventual withdrawal of government services to Indians.
II. The Enactment of Termination Policy
A. From 1947 to 1953, under close congressional scrutiny and strong pressure, the
Bureau of Indian Affairs compiled a series of reports and began to implement
changes designed to result in the termination of federal Indian programs.
1. In February 1947, responding to a congressional summons, Assistant
Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Zimmerman presented a report
which classified the Indians of the United States according to their
readiness for termination. He based his division on four criteria: the
comparative acculturation, economic conditions, and willingness to be
terminated of the various Indian groups, and the ability of state and local
agencies to accept responsibility for the Indians.
a. According to those guidelines, Zimmerman found 10 tribes
(approximately 53,000 Indians) prepared for immediate
b. Twenty tribes (approximately 75,000 Indians) were expected to be
ready for termination within 10 years.
c. The remaining tribes were considered unprepared for termination
in the near future.
2. In 1952 the Bureau of Indian Affairs established a special division to
coordinate federal withdrawal from tribal affairs.
3. In 1952 Congress requested a detailed report of the activities of the Bureau
of Indian Affairs, and particularly those programs designed to lead to
a. The commissioner was asked to supply a list of tribes ready for
b. He was told to list the legislative proposals designed to hasten
termination that had been submitted by his office.
c. The report was to include recommendations to eliminate bureau
functions and transfer necessary services to state, local, or tribal
B. On the basis of those reports and recommendations, Congress enacted a series of
measures designed to bring about termination.
1. In 1953 House Concurrent Resolution 108 declared termination as the
official policy of the United States.
a. The resolution called for the immediate termination of various
b. It also recommended terminating all Indians and shutting down
Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in some states.
2. In that session of Congress, more than one hundred specific termination
bills were introduced to implement the policy outlined in House
Concurrent Resolution 108.
3. Public Law 280, enacted on August 15, 1953, extended state jurisdiction
to the Indians of California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin;
it also allowed other states to assume jurisdiction over Indians voluntarily.
4. In 1954 a series of congressional hearings were held and termination
proceedings were initiated for six tribes.
5. Other legislation indirectly related to termination received support from
advocates of that policy.
a. In 1953, through Public Law 277, Congress amended existing laws
to allow Indians to approve the sale of liquor on reservation lands.
b. In 1954 the Congress voted to remove Indian health programs from
the Bureau of Indian Affairs and place them under the Department
of Health, Education, and Welfare.
III. The Implementation of Termination Policy: The Klamath and the Menominee
A. The Menominee
1. The Menominee were chosen for immediate termination because of their
a. In 1953 they held a 234,000-acre reservation.
b. They had developed a viable economy based primarily on a tribally
owned sawmill and the tribal timber resources.
c. They had established a loan fund, supported a variety of social
service programs, and successfully operated roads, public
buildings, and power plants.
d. Approximately ten percent of the Menominee had a high school
e. They had won a substantial settlement from the Claims
2. Several factors, however, were ignored in the optimistic assessment that
the Menominee were ready to handle their own affairs.
a. The saw mill and the timber resources which provided the major
part of the tribal income were managed by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs; tribal members had little actual experience in managing
their timber industry.
b. After termination, services such as the hospital, roads, and power
plants would be required to meet state standards.
c. Many Menominee who supported termination did so only because
they believed that they would not receive their claims award if they
did not agree to termination.
3. Despite such problems, the Menominee termination begun in 1953 was
completed in 1961. After termination, the previously successful economy
a. The saw mill failed as a result of mismanagement.
b. Tribal funds were dissipated in per capita payments.
c. Menominee lands had to be sold at auction to pay the property
taxes assessed after termination.
d. The hospital was closed because it did not meet state standards,
leaving the Menominee without adequate health care.
e. Organized as a county of Wisconsin, the Menominee had to
assume the burden of county services; their tax base, however, was
not sufficient to provide fire and police protection, sanitation,
roads, and other services capable of meeting state specifications.
B. The Klamath
1. Like the Menominee, the Klamath were chosen for immediate termination
because of their economic success, leadership, and apparent ability to
succeed without federal services.
a. They had established a largely successful tribal government in the
early twentieth century and maintained that government after
voting to reject the Indian Reorganization Act.
b. They had a profitable timber industry with yearly revenues of two
million dollars which provided an annual income of as much as
four thousand dollars per family.
c. A number of tribal members had supported previous proposals to
dissolve their common lands and withdraw from tribal status.
(1) Tribal members had advocated the sale of unallotted tribal
lands and a per capita division of the proceeds in the 1920s. (2) By the l940s, the majority favored the assumption of individual control over these community assets. (3) A bill submitted to Congress in the late l940s would have permitted competent Klamath Indians to withdraw from the tribal rolls and receive a share of the tribal assets. (4) In 1950 the tribe adopted a new constitution which included a provision for the voluntary withdrawal of individuals.
2. These statistics and trends, however, belied the actual condition of the
a. Factionalism, dissension, and disputes over the management of
tribal resources divided the tribe, hampered the tribal government,
and encouraged many members to seek the appealing short-term
solution of withdrawal.
b. The timber industry which was the source of Klamath prosperity
was entirely run and managed by a federal agency; the tribal
members had no experience in administering it.
c. The supporters of withdrawal were the most vocal tribal members,
but many Klamaths objected to the proposal to dissolve tribal
holdings and others were confused about the implications of
3. After a vote in 1958, the majority of the Klamath were terminated
according to the provisions of the 1954 Klamath Termination Act.
a. Seventy percent of the tribe voted to withdraw and accept
individual shares (worth approximately $43,500 each) of the tribal
b. Five percent voted to retain tribal status. With the remaining
members, who did not vote in the special election, these Klamaths
organized as a tribal corporation governed by an executive
c. As the act had provided, tribal rolls were closed and the
termination process was carried out.
4. For the Klamath, termination brought disaster.
a. Only fifteen percent of those who withdrew were judged competent
to manage their own financial resources; approximately sixty-five
percent were transferred directly from federal to state trusteeship.
b. Encouraged by non-Indian exploitation, many Klamaths spent their
per capita payments unwisely for superfluous consumer goods,
unnecessary legal services, and high-interest loans. Within a few
years, many had become destitute and landless.
c. After liquidation of the bulk of the tribal assets, the Klamath lost
much of the resource base which might have allowed the
development of a self-sufficient economy. In addition, the bank
which manages lands still held in trust has been criticized both for
its administration of the resources and its failure to employ
IV. Termination and Reappraisal: Indian Policy in the l950s and l960s
A. By 1954, only a year after the passage of House Resolution 108 and Public Law
280, considerable opposition to rapid implementation of the termination policy
1. Although some Indians were eager to obtain more control over their own
affairs, freedom from restrictions, and large per capita payments, most
were apprehensive about the termination policy and many opposed it
2. Various “friends of the Indian” warned against rapid implementation of
the new policy.
a. Groups such as the Indian Rights Association and the American
Friends Service Committee opposed rapid termination.
b. Some organizations that had initially supported termination, such
as the Governors’ Interstate Indian Council, soon adopted a more
3. A number of congressmen began to oppose rapid termination as they and
their constituents considered the probable cost of the policy.
B. By the late 1950s, as the Klamath and Menominee moved closer to termination
and the potential problems became apparent, a number of critics began to suggest
that the policy itself, and not merely its rapid implementation, might be flawed.
1. The failure of the policy with two of the tribes considered best prepared to
succeed without federal assistance alarmed many policy-makers.
2. Termination had been promoted as a means to cut the cost of Indian
programs, but it began to appear that those costs would not be eliminated
by dismantling federal Indian programs. Instead, services would have to be
provided by state and local agencies and other federal programs, such as
3. Many states which had initially been eager to take control over Indian
affairs began to draw back in the 1960s.
a. California officials, with the support of many of the state’s Indians,
asked for the reinstatement of Johnson- O’Malley funds and other
b. By 1968 both the state of Nebraska and its Indian residents
supported the retrocession of the law which had extended state civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian communities. Two years later, the secretary of the interior approved retrocession for the Omaha.
4. A growing acceptance of the concept of cultural pluralism and increased
recognition of the rights of peoples of all ethnic backgrounds contributed
to the rejection of termination policy and the underlying goal of Indian
C. Although termination remained the official policy of the United States until 1968,
the Bureau of Indian Affairs moved from enthusiastic support of the program in
the 1950s to rejection of it in the 1960s. Throughout the period, a variety of
federal Indian programs remained in operation, and by the 1960s such programs
had begun to assume priority over termination plans.
1. Under the administration of Glen Emmons (1953-1961), the Bureau of
Indian Affairs supported the policy of termination.
a. Emmons himself became a wholehearted advocate of termination;
in his first five years in office, he progressed from cautious
appraisal of the program to unqualified support of it.
b. Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton, however, helped to slow the
pace of termination proceedings during the Emmons
(1) Seaton announced in 1958 that neither Congress nor his
department intended to “abandon” Indians who were unable
to manage their own affairs.
(2) Although this interpretation of the policy slowed the
termination process, proceedings continued. In his final
report in 1961, Commissioner Emmons listed a number of
tribes terminated and in the process of being terminated.
c. Emmons pursued four major programs in addition to termination
during his years as commissioner.
(1) The government attempted to reform Indian health
programs and improve conditions in Indian communities.
(2) Educational efforts continued.
(3) Vocational training and relocation programs were
(4) Economic aid programs were also implemented within the
reservation communities to improve the use of resources,
attract industry, and provide employment for Indians on or
near the reservation.
2. In the l960s, under the direction of commissioners Phileo Nash and Robert
Bennett, the programs of the Bureau of Indian Affairs began to reflect a
shift in priorities.
a. A report prepared by a task force at the request of Secretary of the
Interior Stewart Udall in 1961 suggested that the government’s
priority should be economic and social development of reservation
(1) The report did not repudiate termination; it suggested that
government services might be withdrawn from individual
Indians who achieved success.
(2) It placed new stress, however, on the necessity of programs
which would make the tribes truly independent,
economically self-sufficient, and trained in the necessary
skills before government services were withdrawn.
b. Under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a variety of
programs provided funds for the development of reservation
(1) Legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act, the Education Profession Development
Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Economic
Opportunity Act had a major impact on Indian reservations.
(2) Many of these programs gave Indians a greater degree of
involvement in reservation affairs, and some services were contracted to Indians.
c. Under Commissioner Bennett, the Bureau of Indian Affairs came
to serve as an Indian advocate rather than a neutral administrative
Bahr, Howard N., et al., eds. Native Americans Today: Sociological Perspectives. New York:
Harper & Row, 1972. Especially Collier’s assessment of termination, pp. 64-68.
Brophy, William A., and Sophie D. Aberle, comp. The Indian: America’s Unfinished Business. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966. Provides a summary of Klamath and Menominee termination, pp. 196-207.
Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
Levine, Stuart, and Nancy 0. Lurie, eds. The American Indian Today. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965. Especially pp. 77-81 and 273-312.
Nichols, Roger L., and George R. Adams, eds. The American Indian: Past and Present. Waltham, Mass., and Toronto: Xerox College Publishing, Ginn and Co., 1971. Especially pp. 255-280.
Spicer, Edward H. A Short History of the Indians of the United States. New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1969.
Stern, Theodore. The Klamath Tribe: A People and Their Reservation. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1965.
Taylor, Theodore W. The States and Their Indian Citizens. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1972. Especially pp. 48-65.
Tyler, S. Lyman. A History of Indian Policy. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1973. Especially pp. 151-88.
Waddell, Jack 0., and 0. Michael Watson, eds. The American Indian in Urban Society. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1971. Especially pp. 45-72.