To what extent were the 1970s and 1980s the most significant period in the quest for Native American rights 1865-1992?

Essay plan for native american civil rights and turning points


To what extent were the 1970s and 1980s the most s

1970s and 1980s- the most significant period

  • This period marked a change in government attitudes and the attitudes of Native Americans themselves.
  • Termination Policy and Urbanisation which had further impoverished Native Americans was abandoned and the right to self determination acknowledged.
  • Nixon presidency- introduction of several legislative acts and moves that would progress the position of Native Americans such as:
    • 1972 Indian Education Act
    • 1975 Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act
    • Appointment of Louis R. Bruce as commissioner for Indian Affairs
    • 1970 Pledge to return Indian lands
    • 1972 BIA- Native Americans given preference in employment opportunites
  • This wave of progression was continued by later governments in the 70s and 80s and the recognition of tribal culture was established
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1970s and 1980s cont.

  • 1975 American Indian Policy Review Commission established
  • 1978 Native American Religious Freedom Act allowed Native Americans the right to believe in and express traditional rights.
  • 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act
  • 1990 Native American Graves Protection Act.

The extent to which these measures had significant impact however, depended on the access to federal funding

(eg. Under Reagan's policy of "native capitalism" such measures may have been limited)

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1970s and 1980s - Native Americans Themselves.

The 1970s and 1980s marked a significant change in the attitudes of Native Americans themselves:

  • Young Native Americans became more assertive in obtaining their right to self determination
  • United and organised protest and opposition to their position in society was established
  • Emergence of "Red Power" and militancy thrust the plight of Native Americans into the media, creating a growing awareness of their position.
  • The work of AIM in militantly protesting for rights may have had an influence on the Federal Goverment for reform.
  • Several protests/ incidents highlighted the anger of the Native Americans:
    • 1971 Occupation of Mount Rushmore
    • 1972 Aim takes over BIA in Washington DC (Trail of Broken Treaties)
    • 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee
  • Founding of NARF and work through the Supreme Court secured landmark decisions.
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Were the 1970s and 1980s really a turning point?

  • Could be argued that despite active protest, Native Americans remained dependent on the Federal Government and those sympathetic to their cause.
  • The establishment of NARF and work through the Supreme Court suggests that Federal actions started to become limited.
  • The militancy of AIM created negative images/ stereotypes and slowed down the progression of rights for Native Americans.
  • This period highlighted a change in social position of Native Americans, not necessarliy political or economic (although this was not necessarily something they were campaigning for)

Nevertheless, 1970s and 80s were certainly the most significant period. However, other possible signifcant periods must be taken into consideration.

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World War 2

  • Economic benefits: opportunity of employment both in the armed services or in urban areas away from reservations in factories/ industry
  • Those who fought at war were in unsegregated units - gained a sense of equality which may have influence a change in attitudes and growing awareness.
  • Establishment of the NCAI in 1944 marked the beginning of organised Native American protest particularly though the Supreme Court. Native Americans are becoming less passive.


  • Those who fought were effectively forced back on to reservations and were unable to take advantage of the many educational and employment opportunites open to other veterans
  • Many of those who had worked in urban areas were forced to leave due to competiton, discrimination and prejudice. Those who remained in urban areas suffered in poverty
  • Urbanisation continued into the post war period, negatively impacting NAs.
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Indian Citizenship Act 1924

  • Gave all Native Americans the rights of citizenship, the right to vote.
  • Fundamentally progressive in terms of obtaining "civil rights"
  • Politically emancipated- gave Native Americans the opportunity to have power in the vote/ politcal system to change their position.


  • Native Americans weren't searching for "civil rights" necessarily but the right to self determination, native sovereignty and retaining their culture and tradition.
  • Many already had the vote as a result of intermarriage and the Dawes Act.
  • Many saw the vote as pointless- Native Americans made up a smaller percentage of the population, they felt that using the vote would not effectively change their position
  • Was ultimately another step in the Governement's policy of assimilation: recognising Native Americans as individual Americans.
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The New Deal (Indian Reorganization Act 1934)

The work of John Collier and Roosevelt helped to relieve the suffering of Native Americans via the Indian Reorganization Act. Highlighted a radical reversal of government policy.

  • some unallocated land that had been taken from Native American tribes were restored.
  • Improved the lives of Native Americans on reservations by building schools and hospitals.
  • Native Americans began to have more involvement in the BIA (which had previously been predominantely white)
  • Recognised and preserbed the traditional culture of Indian Tribes (nullified the law of 1883 that baned tribes to practise cultural traditions eg. the Dance Order)
  • Extended the rights of Native American Women
  • Ended the allotment process
  • Encouraged higher education
  • Encouraged an interest in Native American arts and culture (economic ventures)
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Indian Reorganization Act 1934

  • Health radically improved (indian population was increasing)
  • Native Americans had more involvement in the development of Indian Policy


  • The Act was hugely modified (perhaps was too ambitious of Collier, the government were still very focused on the policy of assimilation).
  • Federal funding was limtied
  • Assimilation was not abandoned
  • The response of Native Americans themselves was mixed: some aspired to assmilation, others resisted, not all Native Americans wanted self determination. Collier had made many assumptions.
  • The Second World War and the Policy of Termination/ Urbanisation limited the long term effects of the Indian New Deal.
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