A Mini Lesson in Native American History: Acculturation, Assimilation, Termination

August 10, 2017

 

“If you can’t change them, absorb them until they simply disappear into the mainstream culture. ...In Washington’s infinite wisdom, it was decided that tribes should no longer be tribes, never mind that they had been tribes for thousands of years.” -- Ben Nighthorse Campbell, 2007, former Senator from Colorado and Northern Cheyenne

 

Anyone familiar with Native American history knows that the U.S. government has tried to get rid of Indian tribes and take our land from the very beginning, first through wars and disease, then through Indian Removal from our aboriginal territory to reservations (which is how the Iowa ended up on the Iowa Reservation due to the Platte Purchase Treaty in Missouri in 1836), and then over time “disappear” through acculturation and assimilation. 

 

Acculturation is when tribes begin to live the nonIndian culture instead of their own original traditional ways. With the disappearance of buffalo and open lands to hunt on, and being surrounded by nonIndian culture, there was cultural destruction. The Ioway have been acculturated more and more since being put on the reservation: farming, jobs, speaking English, churches, etc. 

 

Assimilation is when acculturation is pretty well complete, blood quantum has decreased through lots of intermarriage with nonIndians, and tribal members have little to distinguish its members from nonIndians, either how we look or how we live our lives. The next step is termination.

 

Termination was a policy of the U.S. government to get rid of its obligations to tribes under treaties by getting rid of tribes, as Sen. Campbell referred to in his speech above. The government based this in large part on if the tribe was considered assimilated, blended into the local population. Termination meant all federal recognition as a tribe goes away, including all Indian programs and grants, health care and education, status as Indian, and the reservation itself.

 

Termination was made federal policy in 1953, and over 100 tribes were terminated beginning then, including the Menominee, the Ponca, and many others. Because in 1940 the Kansas Act transferred much jurisdiction to the state of Kansas, the four tribes of Kansas, including the Iowa tribe, was slated for immediate termination in 1954 as well. But led by Minnie Evans of the Potawatomi, the Kansas tribes fought Congress to survive termination and succeeded. 

 

Some tribes since then have fought to win back federal recognition, like the Ponca in 1990 (after being terminated as of 1966), but others are still in terminated status. The threat of termination will never go away for any tribe, as tribes and tribal attorneys often discuss; termination was brought up again in discussions at the Water Rights conference in Great Falls, Aug. 2017.

 

Resisting Future Termination: The core of all resistance to any future termination efforts by the government, and to ensure the tribe will continue into the future is based on our identity as a tribe, willingness to defend our status and identity, and the practice of our traditional ways and culture, including recovering our “sleeping language.” While we can do little at this point about our blood quantum, we can do something about our culture and language, but only if all our people make that a priority in their own lives every day. Culture isn’t just for one weekend a year at the powwow, it is for all year round, all your life and your children’s lives. People need to think and ask themselves, “What does it mean to be Indian, and specifically an Ioway Indian? And how do I live that every single day?”

 

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