On this day July 8, 1970

Richard Nixon delivers a special congressional message enunciating Native American Self-Determination as official US Indian policy, leading to the Indian Self-Determination Act.

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 was an early step in the renewal of tribal self-governance, in the forms of creation of constitutions and employment of counsel. It was somewhat limited as all tribal actions were subject to review by the Secretary of the Interior (via the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

In the 1950s there was a renewed effort by some Congressmen to move toward assimilation and terminate the special relationship between the federal government and tribal nations.

The federal government sought to terminate the legal standing of numerous tribes, judging their members ready to be independent citizens. More than 100 tribes and communities were terminated.

The failure of Termination policies became obvious with assessment in the late 1960s. Native Americans and the federal government began to work for a return to greater Indian rights represented by the earlier IRA. The passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 was influential in the road to self-determination. It guaranteed the application of the Bill of Rights upon Indian Country (tribal nations), a guarantee Native Americans on reservations had not enjoyed, given their special relationship to the federal government.

Against the Civil Rights Movement led by African Americans, the rise of activist groups, namely the American Indian Movement, and high profile demonstrations such as the occupation of Alcatraz, helped bring the issue of Native American rights to greater prominence in public policy.

It was not until Richard Nixon’s July 8th “Message from the President of the United States Transmitting Recommendations for Indian Policy” that self-determination became enunciated as a goal of the United States government. His message proclaimed termination as an inherently incorrect policy, and Nixon called for broad-sweeping self-determination legislation. This goal was met in the Indian Self-Determination Act.


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