When the Constitution of the United States was written in 1789, the framers did not have a clear idea of what the new nation’s relationship would be with the many Indian tribes of North America. In the 1830s, the Supreme Court heard a case titled Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia. One part of the court’s decision declared that Indian tribes were “domestic, dependent nations.” As nations, Indian tribes had a special relationship with the United States--different from that of citizens--that was governed by treaties written with individual tribes. The treaties had to be approved by the tribes and by the U. S. Senate.
Throughout the 19th century, tribes signed many treaties. Treaties were sometimes replaced by other treaties; many treaties were disregarded or broken. As the century wore on, the federal government continued to modify Indian policy in ways that satisfied American citizens, Congress, and business interests. However, the government did not work with the tribes to develop a helpful, functional federal policy.
Policy continued to change during the 20th century. In 1952, Congress approved a relocation program for American Indian tribes. The relocation program was supposed to encourage Indian families move from their reservations to distant cities. The intent was to help American Indians assimilate, or become culturally like Anglo-Americans.
Congress appropriated money to pay for job training, to locate housing, and to help Indian families pay their bills for a couple of months in the new city. Though statistics are probably not reliable, approximately 60,000 Indians relocated between 1952 and 1967. Indians left their reservations for Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and other cities. They hoped to find jobs and a good education for their children. More often they found poverty, discrimination, and loneliness.
In 1953, Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 which proposed to terminate (end) Indian tribes’ relationship with the federal government. Certain Indian nations were named in the act including the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. While the Turtle Mountain Chippewa were able to avoid the break-up of their reservation, termination and relocation brought many new challenges to the tribes.
These policies did not work well. The government continued to develop new policies. Today, many individual Indians and many tribes are working to develop their own policies to replace the disastrous policies of the past.