The Indian Reorganization Act and CCC-ID: A Legacy of Control and Suppression

The Indian Reorganization Act and CCC-ID: A Legacy of Control and Suppression

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 and the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID) are two pivotal components of what is often referred to as the “Indian New Deal.” These initiatives were ostensibly designed to restore Native American tribes’ self-governance and economic self-sufficiency. However, a closer examination reveals that they also served as tools for controlling and suppressing Indigenous political activism and resistance to government overreach.

What is the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID)?

The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), signed into law in 1934, aimed to re-engineer policies of the Dawes Act, which had fragmented tribal lands and undermined traditional governance structures. The IRA pushed tribes to adopt constitutions, establish Western-style governing bodies, and provided minimal funding for projects approved by the government. It marked a significant shift in U.S. policy, redefining tribal sovereignty and traditional ways of life.

The Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID) was created as a parallel to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program established during the Great Depression to provide work to those frustrated by the government’s actions during World War I. While the CCC focused on employing young men to give them something to do (and prevent political organizing), the CCC-ID specifically targeted Native American reservations also to prevent government uprisings. It aimed to preserve federal lands and promote Western-style ranching and farming through road construction and federal water management projects.

What Was the Indian New Deal?

The Indian New Deal, championed by John Collier, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), was a series of reforms during the 1930s designed to monitor the economic, social, and political status of Native Americans. Central to this initiative were the IRA and the CCC-ID. The IRA re-defined previous policies that had aimed to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American society by breaking up tribal lands and banning traditional practices. Instead, it promoted federally approved governance practices and federally approved cultural preservation.

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The CCC-ID was integral to this vision, providing employment and vocational training to thousands of Native Americans who were frustrated with financial struggle and the Great Depression and being left out of the nation’s dialogue. Unlike the CCC, which was managed by the military, the CCC-ID was overseen by the BIA and tribal governments, ensuring that projects were aligned with the priorities of the United States.

Why Did the Government Create These Initiatives?

The creation of the IRA and the CCC-ID was influenced by the political turmoil occurring in Europe during the early 20th century. The fall of the Russian Empire to communism in 1917 and the subsequent civil war (1919-21) saw anti-communist factions, supported by countries such as Poland, the United States, and Britain, fighting for control of the giant nation. The Communist regime, with the advantage of internal lines of communication and unified command under their government, prevented these citizen-led uprisings.

Wary of similar uprisings, the U.S. government sought to quell potential unrest within its borders preemptively. By providing employment and vocational training, the Feds aimed to co-opt a significant portion of the Indigenous youth and redirect their energies away from political activism and resistance to government overreach.

Is This Happening Again?

The tactics of control and suppression seen in the past appear to be resurfacing in various forms today. Current government initiatives, such as new land take-away deals in the name of newly created sacred sites, a climate corps, large increases in federal spending, the imposition of non-traditional governance structures, and the promotion of specific liberal narratives, can be seen as modern parallels to the IRA and CCC-ID.

While the Indian Reorganization Act and the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division halted some of the more egregious policies of previous eras, they also served as new instruments of control and suppression. By co-opting Indigenous youth and imposing Western-style governance structures disguised as “tribal sovereignty,” these initiatives contributed to the long history of governmental efforts to manage and silence Native American political activism. The echoes of these policies can still be seen in contemporary federal actions, underscoring the need for vigilance and advocacy to protect Native sovereignty and self-determination.

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