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Debating Termination: Rhetoric and Responses to U.S. American Indian Policy, 1947-1970

HUMALAJOKI, REETTA,ELINA (2016) Debating Termination: Rhetoric and Responses to U.S. American Indian Policy, 1947-1970. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis examines discussions surrounding U.S. American Indian policy from 1947 to 1970, a period in which Congress aimed to “terminate” the federal trust status of Native individuals and groups. Federal rhetoric promised that Termination would lead to “equality” for Native Americans, allowing them to become “full citizens” and gain “freedom” from government paternalism. In practice terminated tribes, like the Klamath, lost both Bureau of Indian Affairs health and educational services and protections on their land holdings, and were consequently subjected to land tax. These changes led to a loss of lands, as well as increasing rates of unemployment, alcoholism and ill-health among members of terminated tribes. This thesis argues that public and tribal acceptance of Termination was secured by the vague nature of policy rhetoric, obscuring the gravity of federal aims, as well as the persistence of assimilationist social evolutionary ideology in the U.S. throughout the twentieth century.

Scholarship agrees that Termination was destructive, but generally presents the policy as short-lived, beginning in 1953 and running out of political steam by 1958. However, it was not actually repudiated until 1970. Drawing on discussions in the national press and the councils of both terminated tribes (Klamath) and groups that retained their trust status (Navajo, Mississippi Choctaw, Five Tribes), this thesis argues that eventual Termination remained the aim of federal Indian policy until President Nixon’s 1970 Special Message on Indian Affairs. It also demonstrates that the rhetoric of “freedom” and “citizenship” was interpreted in multiple ways, playing both to the mainstream belief in the inevitability of Indian assimilation, and tribal governments’ hopes to gain further self-determination. This thesis thus highlights the power and significance of language, demonstrating that understanding the development of U.S. Indian policy demands that more attention be paid to its role.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Apr 2016 12:42

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