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The Great Confusion in Indian Affairs

Native Americans and Whites in the Progressive Era

By Tom Holm

Publication Year: 2005

The United States government thought it could make Indians “vanish.” After the Indian Wars ended in the 1880s, the government gave allotments of land to individual Native Americans in order to turn them into farmers and sent their children to boarding schools for indoctrination into the English language, Christianity, and the ways of white people. Federal officials believed that these policies would assimilate Native Americans into white society within a generation or two. But even after decades of governmental efforts to obliterate Indian culture, Native Americans refused to vanish into the mainstream, and tribal identities remained intact. This revisionist history reveals how Native Americans' sense of identity and “peoplehood” helped them resist and eventually defeat the U.S. government's attempts to assimilate them into white society during the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). Tom Holm discusses how Native Americans, though effectively colonial subjects without political power, nonetheless maintained their group identity through their native languages, religious practices, works of art, and sense of homeland and sacred history. He also describes how Euro-Americans became increasingly fascinated by and supportive of Native American culture, spirituality, and environmental consciousness. In the face of such Native resiliency and non-Native advocacy, the government's assimilation policy became irrelevant and inevitably collapsed. The great confusion in Indian affairs during the Progressive Era, Holm concludes, ultimately paved the way for Native American tribes to be recognized as nations with certain sovereign rights.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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pp. ix-xx

This study has spent a long time in scholastic limbo. Its first materialization was as my doctoral dissertation, done in 1978 under the able direction of Professors Arrell M. Gibson, H. Wayne Morgan, JonathanW. Spurgeon, and Norman Crockett at the University of Oklahoma. ...

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Chapter I: The Vanishing Policy

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pp. 1-22

Before dipping a toe into the murky waters of the late nineteenth- century movement to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American society, it is necessary to explain Indian-white relations in a larger context. First, it must be recognized that the many and various “tribes” in North and South America were autonomous peoples. ...

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Chapter II: Persistent Peoples: Native American Social and Cultural Continuity

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pp. 23-49

Despite their overwhelming confidence, the Christian reformers who provided the ideological basis for the vanishing policy undoubtedly expected the greatest resistance to assimilation to come from the more traditional members of tribal societies. Chiefs like Sitting Bull and Red Cloud of the Lakota, or Lone Wolf of the Kiowa, ...

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Chapter III: The New Indians

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pp. 50-84

“Indian” was an invented term. Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., in his classic book, The White Man’s Indian, made the case that the term “Indies” was already in use by the time Columbus made his voyage to find King Prester John and that it was given generally to those lands east of the Indus River, except for China and other known nations. ...

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Chapter IV: Symbols of Native American Resiliency: The Indian Art Movement

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pp. 85-110

At the first conclave of the Society of American Indians in 1911, a Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) woman named Angel DeCora rose to deliver a talk on the need to protect Native American arts from becoming corrupted in the modern commercial market.1 As much as anyone else at the conference, DeCora was devoted to promoting “race progress,” ...

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Chapter V: Preserving the “Indian”: The Reassessment of the Native American Image

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pp. 111-130

The twentieth century’s realization of the importance of Indian art stood not only as a symbol of Native American resiliency but also as a warning sign that the theoretical underpinnings of the vanishing policy were mere assumptions rather than unvarnished truths. ...

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Chapter VI: Progressive Ambiguity: The Reassessment of the Vanishing Policy

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pp. 131-152

The notion of completely assimilating the Native American population into American society was grounded in a set of beliefs that were at the same time complex, confusing, and all too often conflicting. Old reformers like Richard Henry Pratt, Albert Smiley, and Henry L. Dawes, who more or less provided the theoretical basis for the vanishing policy, combined nationalism, ...

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Chapter VII: The “Great Confusion” in Indian Affairs

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pp. 153-181

By 1910, when McKenzie wrote his review of The Indian and His Problem, the vanishing policy was under attack from all sides. The New Indians had outflanked it by refusing to give up their Native American roots and continuing to demand the rights their ancestors had fought for over the years. ...

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Chapter VIII: Epilogue: John Collier and Indian Reform

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pp. 182-198

Because it lacked a clear theoretical foundation, Indian policy in the first quarter of the twentieth century developed into a series of troubleshooting measures designed to deal with particular problems. Simply put, it was not a single, all-encompassing policy, and so it failed to satisfy nearly everyone interested in the conduct of Indian affairs. ...

Notes

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pp. 199-220

Bibliography

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pp. 221-238

Index

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pp. 239-244


E-ISBN-13: 9780292796737
E-ISBN-10: 0292796730
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292706880
Print-ISBN-10: 029270688X

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Social policy.
  • Assimilation (Sociology) -- United States -- History.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
  • Indians of North America -- Cultural assimilation.
  • Indians of North America -- Politics and government.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Indians in popular culture.
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