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History & Cultures

Termination Policy 1953-1968

In 1943 the United States Senate conducted a survey of Indian conditions. The living conditions on the reservations were found to be horrific, with the residents living in severe poverty. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal bureaucracy were found to be at fault for the troubling problems due to extreme mismanagement. Thus began the era of the governments' efforts to eradicate the Indian tribes of North America. The U.S. government called this their "Termination Policy."

The government believed that there were tribes that were ready to be part of main stream American society and no longer needed the protection of the federal government. Two tribes, the Klamaths who owned valuable timber property in Oregon and the Agua Caliente, who owned the land around Palm Springs were some of the first tribes to be affected by the policy. These lands, rich in resources, were taken over by the Federal Government.

In 1953 Congress adopted an official policy of "termination" declaring that the goal was "as rapidly as possible to make Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States." (House Concurrent Resolution 108)

From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction was turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government.

Public Law 280 which was passed in 1953 turned power over to state governments to enforce most of the regular criminal laws on reservations as they were doing in other parts of the state. State governments and tribes disapproved of the law. Tribes disliked states having jurisdiction without tribal consent and state governments resented taking on jurisdiction for these additional areas without additional funding. With such mutual dissent additional amendments to Public Law 280 have been passed to require tribal consent in law enforcement and in some cases the states have been able to return jurisdiction back to the federal government.