1900 to 1949


1900’s: Dwindling Population


The Lowest point for American Indian populations. The first count was done by the Federal Government, and the number was estimated at only 237,000 Indians in the United States. It has been estimated that there were 5-10 million indigenous people on the continent of North America at the time of first European contact. Millions of Indians died due to disease, starvation, and deprivation. The era of the “Vanishing American”.


1880’s to 1934: Suppression and Repression of American Indian Culture


  • Boarding Schools – (See 1878)
  • American Indian children were removed from impoverished Indian families during the 1920’s until the 1970’s (Indian Child Welfare Act, 1978) by “social workers”, and given to White families to raise. Many Indian children experienced social and cultural deprivation as a result (Jaimes & Halsey in Jaimes, 1992, p.326.)


1914–1918: World War I


American Indians fought and died in WWI defending from invasion by outside forces what was considered “Indian Land”–the United States.


1921: The Snyder Act


Provided first moneys permanently appropriated for Indian health. Authorized the BIA to expend moneys that Congress might appropriate for the benefit, care, and assistance of Indians throughout the U.S. ( John & Baldridge, 1996.)


1924: Citizenship


Citizenship Act of 1924. Indians were given full US citizenship.


1924: Piper v. Big Pine School District, California


This case is viewed as the legal authority for a state assumption of responsibility for public education of Indians when states accepted federal funds and lands for Indian education. (Deloria & Lytle, 1983, pp. 242-3.)


1928: The Miriam Report (“The Problem of Indian Administration, The Institute of Government Research, Washington, D.C.”)


Lewis Miriam and Associates were authorized to conduct a survey of the social and economic status of Indians. The report covered health, education, general economic conditions, family and community life, migration of Indians, legal concerns, and missionary activities. The report bluntly described the federal Indian policy as ineffective and underfunded, and conditions as deplorable. The Miriam Report also included specific recommendations and procedures for improvement. The Senate Indian Committee decided to conduct it’s own study, which took another eight years, and reached basically the same conclusions (Deloria and Lytle, 1983, pp. 12-13).


1934: Indian Reorganization Act (RA) (Wheeler–Howard Act)


  • John Collier (Commissioner of the BIA) reversed laws banning ceremonies and spiritual practices by American Indians living on reservations.
  • Ended the federal government’s policy of “allotment”.
  • Established a credit fund for tribal economic development.
  • Promised expanded social programs and federal funding for projects.


Tribes were authorized to form “constitutional governments” which could employ legal council, and negotiate with federal, state, and local governments. 181 Tribes voted to accept RA provisions, and 77 tribes voted to reject the act (including the large Navajo tribe and the Indians of Oklahoma). Deloria and Lytle (1983) explain that while the new forms of Tribal Councils were akin to some tribal traditions, they were completely foreign to others, and that almost all of the traditional Indians opposed RA as another means of imposing “white institutions” on tribes.


1934: Johnson O’Malley Act


Provides for the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts with state and local governments to provide for education, medical care, and social services for Indians displaced off reservations due to “allotment” (John & Baldridge, 1996).


1941 to 1946: World War II


During World War II (WWII) American Indian men were recruited to serve in the communication units, since they could send messages in Indian languages between American troops without enemy forces being able to break their code (e.g., the Navajo “Code-Talkers”). More than 25,000 American Indians served in WWII, many with distinction. Indian women were also involved in the war effort, and many left the reservations for the first time in their lives. After the war, Indians who had been treated with dignity and respect while serving in the armed services, came home to discrimination, racism, unemployment, and deplorable conditions on the reservations (Calloway, 1999, pg 421; Nabokov, 1991).


1948: Hoover Commission


Recommended that responsibility for Indians be transferred to the states as soon as possible (Deloria & Lytle, 1983).