- On the Political “Warpath”Native Americans and Australian Aborigines after the First World War
In the wake of the First World War, Indigenous peoples in the United States and Australia joined a global push by those on the margins for self-determination, justice, and equality. This article focuses on and discusses two organizations that formed during this turbulent global time period: the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) in Australia and the Mission Indian Federation (MIF) in the United States. A comparison of the two organizations reveals the strategies they employed in their fight for land, for citizenship, for the protection of their children, and for the mobilization of non-Indigenous support. Both organizations faced powerful government opposition in both countries.
I confess that this article is not intended to be a theoretical interpretation of the two groups but is more about restoring a history that is important today for Indigenous people and communities. I derived inspiration from such missing histories of organized political resistance. Both the AAPA and MIF remain very much unknown within the historical literature. In Australia the AAPA and its impact on Aboriginal politics continue to be overlooked by many studies, and the organization remains virtually unknown outside of Australia. The MIF in the United States is similarly relatively unknown and overlooked. I intend to reveal here the impact these groups had at the time and the pan-Indigenous national agenda that both groups strongly endorsed.
In both the United States and Australia, Indigenous men returned home from the Great War with shifted perceptions of the world and [End Page 48] their place in it. Gaining acceptance back home within a wider community riddled with deep-seated racism, prejudice, and oppression was a devastating negative reality. Indigenous people in both countries recognized with many others globally that the war itself and its aftermath had caused a seismic shift in global and colonial power structures, and the time was ripe to raise a voice and demand social, political, and economic change.1
In the aftermath of the First World War, Indigenous men and women in both Australia and North America organized political platforms based on Western models but grounded in Indigenous cultural frameworks of doing business. In Australia three organizations formed during the 1920s: the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) in Sydney, New South Wales (N.S.W.), in 1924; the Native Union in Perth, Western Australia, in 1926; and the Australian Aborigines Association in South Australia in 1927. The Native Union and Australian Aborigines Association both focused on local and regional issues and had relatively short terms of organized activity. The AAPA, the biggest organization of the period, instigated a national pan-Aboriginal focus, demanding “enough land for each and every Aboriginal family in the country.” International events and Marcus Garvey’s “Black Nationalist” political ideology greatly influenced and inspired this group. In N.S.W. the catalyst for the establishment of the AAPA in the 1920s was increased government action revoking Aboriginal landholdings and the acceleration of tearing Aboriginal children away from their families by the N.S.W. Aborigines Protection Board.2
In the United States literally dozens of Indian organizations sprang up in the early decades of the twentieth century, some small, some big, some short-lived, and some that battled for Indian rights for decades. Some groups largely focused on local and regional issues, while others mobilized with a national pan-Indian focus in mind. Some of the more prominent included the Navajo Chapters, the Native American Church, the Society of American Indians, the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the Californian Brotherhood, the Grand Council Fire of Chicago, the Indian Defense League of America, and the Mission Indian Federation (MIF).
Of these many Indian groups I will examine here the MIF, founded in 1919 in California. This organization had a similar platform, motivations, and strategies to those of the AAPA in Australia. Like the AAPA, the MIF recognized the importance of directing its energy toward defending and mobilizing Indigenous support at the grassroots level and encouraging a united pan-Indigenous national agenda. The MIF insisted: “The control of the Indians will be in their own hands, by their electing a...