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C h a p t e r V I I The “Great Confusion” in Indian Affairs 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. Native Americans on the reservations were fighting a cunning defensive action to maintain their spiritual connections with the land through syncretism and to preserve their communities by sustaining long-standing kinship systems. Scientists denounced the vanishing policy as an unscientific, inefficient, and unsuccessful attempt to create white people out of Native Americans, and demanded that Indians be left alone so that they could be studied more thoroughly. Without fully grasping what they were doing, white intellectuals, artists, and art connoisseurs recognized that Native American art was the product of complex societies and that it could not be “Indian art” without Native American spirituality or a tribal sense of peoplehood. Conservationists of the romantic stripe flayed the vanishing policy with a series of cutting articles that essentially branded it as an attempt to loot Native American lands and destroy a culture that possessed a knowledge of the environment that could renew America and counterbalance the deleterious effects of industrialization. Between  and , federal Indian policy did indeed become a confusing bureaucratic attempt to find order in the midst of the philosophical debate over what “the Indian” was and what Native Americans in general could become. Ultimately, the philosophical conflict represented a clash between old notions of liberalism that stressed per- *final holm pages 5/18/05 4:29 PM Page 153 sonal initiative and new, more conservative ideas of social control that led to the growth of the federal bureaucracy in social service areas. The old assimilationists believed that if their policies were followed in Indian education and in the allotment of tribal lands, Indians would abandon tribal cultures and would eventually be freed from the “cramping reservation yoke.”1 After Indians had been freed and Americanized, the federal government would then abandon its role as the final arbiter of Native Americans’ future. Native Americans would then become masters of their own personal destinies. In any case, once the tribes were eliminated as distinctly identifiable peoples within American society, the Board of Indian Commissioners assured those interested in Indian affairs, there would follow “the speedy extinction of a separate bureau for Indians.”2 But to attain the lofty goal of eliminating a federal bureaucracy, the old reformers actually promoted the imposition of increasingly greater controls over Indian affairs. Chief Justice John Marshall’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia in , that Indians should be looked upon as “wards” in their relationship with the national government, was now taken literally and erroneously to mean that the United States had assumed guardianship over individual Native Americans. Likely as not, Marshall viewed individual Native Americans as members of tribal polities and those Indian polities as protectorates rather than wards. Whatever the case and whatever the Marshall court’s intention, the Indian Office, at the instigation of the assimilation movement, assumed more and more discretionary authority over the lives of individual Native Americans, handing out allotments, abducting children to be placed in boarding schools, providing health care, distributing rations and the like. Tribal states could be bypassed as the Indian Office assumed more responsibilities in its role as the guardian of individual Indians’ interests. The Dawes and Curtis Acts, the extension of federal jurisdiction over crimes committed on Indian lands, and the whole assimilation process could not have occurred without violating the provisions of treaties and trampling on personal rights, and these acts were all justified on the grounds that Indians were wards of the federal government. In the early twentieth century the Indian Office was a constantly growing bureaucracy. Civil service reform in the late nineteenth century had ensured that low-level officials, with certain degrees of expert- — The Great Confusion in Indian Affairs — — 154 — *final holm pages 5/18/05 4:29 PM Page 154 ise, would be retained in the Indian Office despite changes of presidential administration. In , Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane ironically described the Indian Office as a “vanishing bureau,” apparently without recognizing or understanding that the number of the office’s employees had more than doubled since .3 The Indian service had taken on greater responsibility and consequently had grown enormously to...


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