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Understanding Indigenous Culture in ND Series: Tribal Makeup/Enrollment Part 6: Relocation

In the early 1950s, the U.S. Congress, by enacting certain laws, continued their attempts to terminate the government’s trusteeship of Indian lands by relocating Indigenous people to the nation’s larger cities and integrate first people with mainstream America. Specifically, the Voluntary Urban Relocation Program, also known as the American Indian Urban Relocation Program, had that goal of migrating Indigenous people off reservations to cities. This relocation policy was yet another attempt to remove Native Americans from their reservations and small allotments for the government to exploit the land for development and resources extraction.

In 1951, new commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dillon S. Myer, had just finished leading a massive government run forced relocation of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans to what the government called internment camps and subsequently to cities scattered across the country. He then commanded BIA officers to recruit Native Americans within tribal and rural communities across the country, who could speak English and had some job training. Those Indigenous people would then be relocated, with one-way transportation, to original relocation cities Los Angeles, Denver or Chicago, and eventually added Seattle, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Oakland, Cleveland and Minneapolis.

The program had more applicants than money and this continued for multiple years. Typically for a man and his wife, once at the relocated city, they would receive $40 per week for a month, and those with families would receive another $10 per child per week (up to 8 children). This would remain in place till the first paycheck arrived. Eventually Native Americans would be convinced to move off the reservation without financial assistance.

For Indigenous people relocated, there was a struggle to adjust to city life to include placement in “slum” housing, unemployment, low-end jobs, discrimination, inability to own homes due to covenant restrictions, and loss of traditional cultural practices and feel homesick. The program not only changed the characteristics of these cities, but more importantly, negatively impacted the identity of reservations. Within a short time, many relocated Native Americans made their way back to their reservations. When they returned, they found that city life had changed their demeanor in such a way that they did not fit in on their homelands. As a result, there were many who turned around and relocated to another city. For reference, 8% of Native Americans lived in cities at the start of the relocation program, and per 2017, 78% of Native Americans lived off-reservation, and 72% lived in urban or suburban environments.

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

Goal – High school students will be able to use their creativity to create a society (island) that honors the history and culture of all its inhabitants, especially focusing on the original people. This activity will take two class periods.

Students will:

1. Brainstorm elements of a society

2. Identify an ideal society that honors diversity

The teacher will provide large sheets of paper and drawing materials for students to create/draw an island. In groups, students will work collaboratively to describe three aspects of their island society (not limited to): art, music, language, rules, resources, and other ideas they may have. Consider posing the following questions: How do people become members of this society? What policies are in place to ensure equality for the citizens? What does education look like?

Each group will present their society to the others. An extension might be to create a travel brochure.

· The Urban Relocation Program - We R Native

· The 1950s plan to erase Indian Country | Uprooted | APM Reports

· The American Indian Relocation Program | APM Reports

· Most Native Americans live in cities, not reservations. Here are their stories | Native Americans | The Guardian

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