“Modern America and the Indian”

The essay by Alvin Josephy appeared in a book, Indians in American History: an Introduction, edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, and published in 1988.  “Modern America and the Indian” is one in a fine collection of essays by scholars–many of them tribal members also–examining American history from the Indian’s side.

Josephy covers the period from the late 1920s until the Reagan Administration. There is a detailed examination of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and the biographical background on its author, John Collier. Alvin sees the period as a defining one in the long struggle of Indians to maintain culture and identity against the tremendous pressures of assimilation. Collier was their champion, with support from President Roosevelt, and tried to reverse the assimilation movements of the previous half century. The support was not as strong from Congress.

The IRA did finally put an end to the Allotment Act of 1887, which “had stripped Indians of some 90 million acres of their lands.” The New Deal and IRA gave Indians hope, but it also created divisions. In the next decades, WW II, PL 280, Termination and Relocation all tended to reverse Indian identity movements and advance assimilationist sentiments among white policy makers, the general population, and some Indians. The 60s, Vietnam, and Civil Rights activism then countered, as did the American Indian Movement and other expressions of “Red Power.”

The same period is addressed in more detail from an Indian point of view by David Treuer, an Ojibwe tribal member from Minnesota. Treuer is a novelist and a scholar, and in two books: The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee and Rez Life, argues that the popular view of Indians and Indian history still today stops in 1891 at Wounded Knee. He uses written history and personal experience to make his arguments. His work is to tell us what in fact happened in Indian Country 1891-present.

Josephy fought that battle from the white side in his career as writer and activist. In this essay, and throughout his career, Alvin Josephy saw the Indians as unique partners in a broader American and world-wide movement to recognize the dignity and worth of many cultures in a “pluralistic” America and world. Authoritarian nationalism and cultural homogenization have been and continue to be pitted against this pluralistic world view. The essay follows on the link below:

Modern America & the Indian.


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