Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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As the claims case wound its way through the court system and the judgments were in the far and distant future, a new battle loomed ahead for the Potawatomi.

Although the 1950s brought remarkable economic prosperity to the country, more problems were in store for the Potawatomi, largely because of Washington's tired, old conventional wisdom in the area of Indian policy.

Following World War II, the United States had changed enormously. A political conservative movement against Franklin D. Roosevelt's brand of liberalism emerged. An economic boom resulted in America because of the availability of new markets in America's recently acquired global empire. And nationalism, engendered by the wartime experience, set the stage for the most intense assault on Indian sovereignty in the twentieth century.

In 1947, a conservative majority Republican Congress now in power wanted to reduce the expenditures of the federal government. Acting Indian Commissioner William Zimmermann was asked to testify on Indian programs and to evaluate tribal conditions and to list those tribes that could immediately succeed without further federal help.

Zimmerman produced this list, but cautioned that significant and substantial changes and protection must be instituted before any tribe could stand on its own feet.

This laid the groundwork for the hectic 1950s, and the next commissioner, Dillon Myer, the man in charge of the Japanese-American internment during World War II, who advocated immediate government withdrawal from Indian business.

Myer had many people in Congress who shared his sentiments. The leading proponent was conservative Republican Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah who was firmly convinced that if the Indian people were freed from federal supervision they would soon prosper by learning in the school of life those lessons that a cynical federal bureaucracy hadn't been able to instill before.

Hence, this period became known to Indians as "The Termination Period."

This was another assimilation effort on the part of "friends" in Washington. The policy watchers embarked on a campaign to break up the reservation system--a campaign similar to the allotment policies of the 1800s, but far more serious. Now the entire Indian system was slated for elimination.

Charles F. Wilkenson and Eric R.Biggs catalogued some of the basic consequences of termination.

  1. There were fundamental changes in land ownership patterns.
  2. The trust relationship was ended.
  3. State legislative jurisdiction was imposed.
  4. State judicial authority was imposed.
  5. Exemption from state taxing power ended.
  6. Special federal programs ended.
  7. Special federal programs to individual Indians were discontinued.
  8. Tribal sovereignty effectively ended.

Soon after the House of Representatives drafted a resolution called HR 4985, in 1954, with the express purpose of withdrawing federal supervision over five Indian tribes as soon as possible.

Named in the House resolution were the Potawatomi of Kansas, the Chippewas of the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota, the Flatheads of Montana, the Klamaths of Oregon, and the Klamaths of Wisconsin.

Eventually the Klamath and Menominees were terminated as tribes, but largely because white businessmen wanted access to the vast timber resources they controlled, and there was a lack of unity on the part of the tribes' leadership.

It took Ada Deer, who later parlayed this campaign into a high position in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 20 years of fighting and hard lobbying of Congress to get the Menominees restored as a tribe.

But thanks to Minnie Evans, the actual termination never happened to the Potawatomi tribe.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, July 6, 1995
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