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210 CHAPTER 14 American Indians Moving to Cities DAVID R. M. BECK AND ROSALYN R. LAPIER Isabel Wilkerson, in her comprehensive tome on the subject, referred to the Great Migration of some 6 million African Americans from the South as “perhaps the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.”1 The history of American Indians in the years after the first Wounded Knee (1890) also falls into the largely underreported category. And within the field of American Indian history, the study of the massive demographic upheaval of the twentieth century has been, with a few exceptions, heavily marginalized. By the end of the twentieth century the population of American Indians in the United States grew from its nadir of 250,000 in 1900 to nearly 3 million. By the beginning of that century American Indians had begun to migrate, individually and in family groups, from their homelands to far reaches of the United States, and by the end of the century some three-quarters would live off of reservations. Both trends—population growth and off-reservation living—continue to increase in Indian Country. According to the 2010 census, 78 percent of the 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States live off of reservation lands.2 A key component of this demographic shift was the development of urban American Indian communities across the United States. The groundwork for the creation of these communities was laid during the Progressive Era, and the communities ballooned in the years following the Second World War. American Indians made up perhaps one percent of the U.S. population during the twentieth century, even after their population growth, and in cities American Indians generally represented a tiny minority of the population. Politically, economically, and socially they were rarely noticed, so that they became in most places an “invisible minority.”3 This invisibility is apparent over the course of the time period our analysis explores, from the first Wounded Knee in 1890 to the second Wounded Knee in 1973. The process of urbanization and the development of urban American Indian communities during these years are reflective of changes in Indian Country and the United States, and provide insights into both. American Indians Moving to Cities 211 In this essay, we will examine three places in which the study of American Indian urbanization interconnects with U.S. history. The first is the impact of the Progressive Era reform movements sweeping the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on individual Indians . During the Indian boarding school era, a cadre of western-educated American Indians began to broaden their view of what historian Frederick Hoxie has referred to as “This Indian Country” to include new habitations sometimes far from their original homelands.4 Many individual Indians were trained by and developed alliances with Progressive Era reformers, and their actions and relationships provide insight into both the demographic shift in Indian Country and the reform movement. Second, as America began to work toward homogenization in the post– World War II era, American Indians—both by choice and by federal government pressure—left their reservation communities and moved to cities in ever-increasing numbers. Some ardently pursued the American dream with success; others were locked out. Finally, in the civil rights era and the years following, urban American Indians began to develop increasingly sophisticated methods to pursue their own processes of selfdetermination . In the final analysis, the result of these twentieth-century changes illuminates the successful efforts of a small, vibrant, unique minority population to adapt to rapid change by combining their societal core cultural values with core American values to carve out new spaces in a modern world. Although we will discuss urbanization and demographic shifts as national phenomena, we will focus our stories on Chicago and the Midwest, the heart of America. American Indians in Cities before the Twentieth Century The history of urbanization in the Americas long predates the coming of Europeans to these lands. The largest urban center in what is now the United States, referred to as “the third largest prehistoric construction in the [western] hemisphere,” was Cahokia, home to tens of thousands of people and located in what is now Illinois, not far from St. Louis, Missouri . Cahokia was abandoned by about 1300 a.d.5 As Europeans moved into America and developed cities in strategically located areas, they did so on lands acquired from American Indians, and in places that Indians had abandoned or long used in varieties...


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