Native American Movement

To most experts, the 1950’s was a defining period for the Americans; one which saw the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, whose clout and influence extended to the far reaches of the globe. America’s glorious victory in World War II has paved the way for a leadership role that the United States took to with effortless skill. This newfound sense of economic and political power changed the lay of America’s land.

While World War II ended successfully for the United States, its end meant the beginning of a new struggle for the Americans, or to be more accurate, the continuation of a struggle that started when the Pioneers first settled in America. The Native Americans, as first settlers of the United States before it was called as such, have always been reluctant to welcome the Pioneers. This has led to several violent battles, but eventually to an uneasy compromise.

This tenuous peace was threatened once again after the war, as renewed prosperity encouraged the United States government to attempt the re-assimilation of the Native Americans into mainstream society. This brought about an upheaval among Native Americans as they considered this move a threat to their culture and way of living which they have furiously fought for. Most of the uprooted Native Americans were unable to adapt to urban life, and ended up worse than where they started. Clearly while the United State government meant well, the move to urbanize Native Americans failed miserably.

The 1960’s brought with it a legacy of “assimilation and cultural legitimization” (Benham, 2002, 3), and it left on its heels a nation of Native Americans who are more aware of their rights and became more assertive in pushing for those rights. The 1960’s saw the Native American Movement taking off led by a new generation of well-educated leaders fighting to restore Native Americans lands that have been taken away from them.

All across the United States, these Native American leaders disputed violations and successfully negotiated for expanded rights for the American Indians. This movement culminated in the establishment of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 which was founded with the initial purpose of placing state-mandated subsidies in the hands of locally-controlled American Indian organizations, and then channel these funds to Native Indians who needed them the most. However, in the 1970’s the American Indian Movement evolved into a secessionist group which aggressively promoted “self-governance and return to tribal ways” (Patterson et al, 2005, 77)

This fervor spread like wildfire across the United States. American Indians took their cause to the streets, to the courts, to the media, and to all other possible venues where they can express their indignation and press for their rights. In an effort to recover ancestral land, they sued the states that have forcibly taken American Indian territories.

They have also been able to protect their land against development. Needless to say, all of these militant protests paid off, with the government granting them concessions. In the 1970’s, there was a succession of legislation passed ensuring better treatment for the Native Americans. In 1972, the Indian Education Act gave Native American greater options over the schools that they can choose to send their children. In 1976, the Indian Health Care Act was passed to provide better health care for American Indians. In 1978, in acknowledgement of Native Indian ways, the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted which gave Indian tribes the authority to deliberate and decide custody issues involving Indian children. (Mintz, 2007)

Indeed the late 1960s and early 1970s was a period of political enlightenment and activism, not just among Native Americans, but among disenfranchised groups such as the African Americans and women’s rights groups. In the case of the Native Americans, the activism was spurred by poverty and lack of support from the government. By the 1960s, while most of the United States was experiencing prosperity, American Indians have remained among the poorest of the country’s minority groups, and the government has remained largely indifferent to their plight.

This resurgence in Native American Nationalism resulted in armed confrontations and death, but it managed to bring desired results as well. Sometimes it does take militant action to compel a government to pay attention and take action. Other Americans, who did not know any better, became more aware of Native Americans and their plights, and some became active supporters to their cause. Elected officials such as senators and congressmen were compelled to support legislation that protected the rights of the American Indians and ensured their equal protection.

Indeed it might be said that the Native American movement was a movement that has been a long time in the making. But when it did take place, it did so at the best possible time. The movement came at a time when Americans were becoming aware of the rights of others, and thus American society was only too willing to heed the call of a people who have been in the land long before anyone else did.

References:

Benham, K.P. (2002). The Renaissance of American Indian Higher Education: Capturing the Dream. Edited by Wayne J. Stein. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. P. 3.

Mintz, S. (2007). America in Ferment: The Tumultuous 1960s. The Native American Power Movement. Digital History. Retrieved October 10, 2007 from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=387

Patterson, J. T., et al. (2005). The Oxford history of the United States. Oxford University Press. p. 77.

 

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