The policies of the Federal Government toward Native Americans experienced numerous pendulum swings in the past years, influenced by changing political agendas. These swings left the Native American communities adapt to the changes imposed from outside.
The Dawes Act of 1887 marked the beginning of the “Allotment Era”, during which it was possible to force or talk Native Americans into giving up their traditional way of life in order to integrate into the mainstream society. The importance of the Native American tribal rites came to the fore with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, touted as “Indian New Deal.” The Act laid the foundation for tribal businesses and the repurchase of the land that once belonged to the tribes.
These policies were replaced by termination policy in 1945, in the wake of the Second World War. The new agenda implied the termination of the federal trust responsibility to Native American tribes and aimed at elimination of their reservations and settlements.
In 1953 Congress voted for the removal of whatever federal support there existed for Native Americans. The next two decades were the time of termination when approximately 11,500 Native Americans stopped receiving services from the government, and 1.5 million acres of their land lost federal support. As a result, many were living depending on welfare payments.
Many public demonstrations of protest such as occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay from 1969 to 1971 forced President Nixon to stop the termination policies.
There was a return to a great degree to the policies of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and push for self-determination. Sites were returned to Native Americans, and the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971 offered settlements in return for land to Native Alaskans. The 1980s saw a series of reductions in the budgets for social services on the reservations. Thus, policies often swung from support to acts aimed at elimination of Native American settlements and their assimilation.