Important Policy Periods for Native Americans
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Important Policy Periods for Native Americans. Cultural competence in working with elders. Sponsored by:. University of Oklahoma School of Social Work Master’s Advanced Curriculum Project . Objectives. Knowledge Service eligibility for Native Elders

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Important Policy Periods for Native Americans

Cultural competence in working with elders

Sponsored by:

University of Oklahoma

School of Social Work

Master’s Advanced Curriculum Project



  • Service eligibility for Native Elders

  • Examples of historical experiences that may lead to distrust of helping professionals

  • Results of assimilation efforts by federal government

  • Examples of romanticizing tribal Elder’s culture

  • Build appreciation for the tenacity with which Native people have retained their culture and transformed it through their experiences in urban contexts

Foundational Information

Tribal Nations

  • 561 Tribal Entities that are recognized by the U.S. Federal Government

  • There are state recognized tribes that do not have federal recognition

  • There are tribes that do not have state federal recognition, they may be in the process of seeking recognition from the state or federal government


  • Tribal Nations provide health, mental health, and social services for elders

  • Tribes with federal recognition tend to have more services

  • Eligibility determined by the elder’s tribal citizenship

    • Formal application process for each tribe

      Social Worker Response

  • After an elder self identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native, ask if they are enrolled and with what tribe

  • Tribal elders are still eligible for local, state, federal based programs

  • Determine where elder prefers to seek services-from tribe or not

Historical Background

History of oppression against Tribal People

  • Agencies were created to “help” Native Americans often proved detrimental

    - Boarding schools sought to assimilate children

    • Over representation of tribal children in out of home child welfare placements

  • Research has been done by outsiders that did not consult the tribe

    - Did not consider tribal needs in determining research agenda

    - Did not publish findings with tribal consent

    - Often misrepresented tribal culture


  • Elders may have distrust of social service professionals

  • Extra time may be needed to establish trust

    Social Worker Response

  • Recognize that distrust is not just an Indigenous response, but common to other populations we serve

  • Do not personalize

  • Do not feel guilty about historical oppression

  • Do feel accountable for recognizing contemporary discrimination and respond appropriately

Historical Oppression

U.S. Government Policies & Practices


  • Policies were not successful tribal cultures changed, but did not end

  • Elders will have different levels of ethnic identity (identification with tribal culture) partially based on these experiences

  • Ethnic identity will have varied over the elder’s life

  • Different members of the elder’s family will have different levels of ethnic identity

    • Could be source of conflict

  • Ethnic identity can impact one’s perception of wellness, where one wants to seek help

  • Early periods sought to end tribal cultures

  • Goal was to assimilate Indigenous people into American society; examples:

    • Boarding Schools

    • Relocation Programs

Social Worker Response

  • Listen to the elder in terms of their level of affiliation with their tribe and connection to tribal culture

  • Macro level programs exist to strengthen traditional knowledge, support learning of tribal languages. May refer client if this is their wish to become more connected.

Cohort analysis older adults 80
Cohort Analysis:Older Adults 80+

Assimilation Policy Period - 1870s to 1930s

  • Impact on Native American elders today

  • Forced assimilation practices separated children from their families and communities

  • Children were confined to a strict militaristic style of teaching, with strong disciplinary actions for any mention of their native culture

    Assimilation Outcomes:

  • Elders were not physically accessible to children to serve as teachers of culture

  • Loss of children’s lives, cultural continuance, and connection

  • Resilience amongst some children lead to greater diversity among Native American elders today

  • Significant loss of tribal land to non-native people

  • Native Americans granted citizenship in 1924

Cohort Analysis:

Old Age to Young Old

Tribal Self Government – 1930s to 1950s

  • 1934 Indian Reorganization Act

    • Also known as the Indian New Deal or Wheeler-Howard Act

  • Tribes sovereignty restored and the extended rights to tribes to create Constitutions, form organizations, and businesses if they desired to do so

  • Development of a credit system for tribes

  • The sale of tribal land slowed down, but there was continued loss of land to non-native land buyers

  • Outcomes of Tribal Self-Government:

  • Established self-government and financial equity for the tribes

  • Continued loss of connection between child and elder, family and community due to adoption, continued boarding schools, and racism

  • The act provided initial definitions of “Indian” and “tribe”

  • Funds set up for a revolving credit system for tribal land purchases, education, and general aid to the tribes

  • Remains the basis of federal legislation for the Indian affairs

Oklahoma indian welfare act 1936
Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (1936)

  • Also known as the Thomas-Rogers Act, was a revision to the federal 1934 Wheeler-Howard or Indian Reorganization Act

  • Proposed by Sen. Elmer Thomas, along with other congressmen, who did not believe that forcing Native Americans off of their allotments to the Reservations would be beneficial to the state or the individual

  • Placed Native American residing in Oklahoma under Federal guardianship, lessened restrictions on land ownership for native people, and restricted the sale of tribal lands to non-native persons.

Cohort analysis young old to middle age
Cohort Analysis:Young Old to Middle Age

Termination – 1950s to 1960s

  • Tribes no longer recognized as sovereign nations

  • Tribes and individuals were no longer exempt from federal and state taxes

  • Tribal land was no longer held in trust by the government and large tracts of land were sold to non-native people

  • Federal funds taken from health care and social services provided to Native Americans living on the reservations

  • States were allowed to engage jurisdiction on reservations

  • Outcomes of Termination:

  • Approximately 44,000 Native Americans served in the military during WWII; Navajo “code talkers” known for their involvement

  • Relocation program sponsored by the BIA

  • Over 100 tribes were terminated from Federal Tribal roles

Realities of the termination policy period 1953 public law 280 urban relocation program
Realities of the Termination Policy Period1953 Public Law 280 – Urban Relocation Program

Our poverty prompted the move. In 1955, my father first started talking to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials about various forms of assistance for Cherokees. Relocation was a possibility. I recall hearing at the time that the relocation program was being offered as a wonderful opportunity for Indian families to get great jobs, obtain good educations for their kids, and once and for all, leave poverty behind. In truth, the program gave the government the perfect chance to take Indian people away from their culture and their land.

Urban relocation propaganda denver
Urban Relocation Propaganda: Denver

  • “Relocatees were supposed to receive temporary housing, counseling and guidance in finding a job, permanent housing, community and social resources. The new migrants also were given money to tide them over on a sliding scale based on the number of children in the family. A man, his wife and four children got $80 a week for four weeks” (The urban relocation program, 2006).

    Image from:

Relocation dreams vs reality
Relocation Dreams vs. Reality

“Some of those who moved to Chicago before the Relocation program, helped establish the Chicago Indian Center, an independent organization, free of BIA oversight. The Center offered a place for diverse tribes to come together and "be Indian," contrary to the Relocation goal of keeping urban Indians dispersed to speed assimilation. The realities of city life for Indians fell far short of the glossy BIA pamphlets. Many became victims of crime or succumbed to alcoholism and other misfortunes and fell through the cracks. In the end, they simply joined the sea of other low-income brown folks struggling to survive in an unfamiliar big city” (Pember, 2008).

Cohort analysis middle age and younger
Cohort Analysis: Middle Age and younger

Self-Determination – 1960s to Present

  • Indian activism rose with the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act preceding the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, putting to rest the 30 year effort to end treaties and federal government obligations to the tribes

  • 1978 Indian Religious Freedoms Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act

  • Tribal Nations resumed power over tribal government, education, and negotiations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs

    Self Determination Outcomes

  • Some of the elders that had maintained their traditional language & traditions were again supported by tribal governments, resurgence of language and cultural revival programs

  • Surge among the younger generations to return to traditional tribal practices, pow wows, ceremony, and Indian education

  • Increase in federal funds to Indian Health Services to provide for health care and social services to both rural and urban American Indians and Alaska Natives

  • Continued fight for the recognition and preservation of native sacred sites across the United States

  • American indian movement the occupation of alcatraz november 20 th 1969
    American Indian MovementThe Occupation of Alcatraz – November 20th,1969

    “Indian people can feel ashamed of themselves without reason. It all stems from racism. If you go to high school off reservation you have no friends, no girlfriends, you try to fit in, you give everything up. You sit in the back, keep quiet, try to go along, try to fit in, but something was missing. You know something is wrong. There’s this empty void inside you. You coast along. Work 8-5 jobs. Life is not really worthwhile. But something is growing inside you all those years. Suddenly something like Alcatraz happens. All of those Indians coming together. Even if they didn’t have any real goal, just a gathering, it’s still very powerful. You realize you’re not alone. You share the future, the same goals. Alcatraz – that gave me the strength. You realize that the white man is not going to do it. I have to do something myself. So it’s been that way ever since. The importance is that Alcatraz had a power to being fundamental change. It happened on Alcatraz.”

    Excerpt from George Horse-Capture found in Nagel, 1997, p.134

    Self determination in action
    Self-Determination in Action

    Indian Religious Freedoms Act

    • Initial provisions acknowledged past infringements on American Indian and Alaska Native tribes to “believe, express, and practice” the traditional ways of their culture

    • 1994 Amendments expanded those freedoms to include access to sacred sites, use of sacramental objects, and the freedom to worship through traditional rites and ceremonies

    • Examples: Use of peyote by the Native American Church and remittance to partake in the Ghost Dance

    (Photo Source: Horgan, 2003)

    Pow wow Photo Source:

    Self determination in action1
    Self-Determination in Action

    Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978

    • Between 1969 and 1974 - just five years time – between 25 and 35% of Native American children had been removed from their homes and placed in non-native foster or adoptive homes

    • The ICWA reinforced cultural preservation of native families and provided protection to Native American children through provisions that keep them in the family or tribal community

    • Today, in addition to cultural preservation, it provides protection and advocacy for Native American children, in both urban and rural areas

    (NICWA, 2009; Wilkins, 2004)

    Social Considerations


    American Indians and Alaska Natives elders have to constantly deal with people claiming to be Native, typically Cherokee


    • American Indian identity and connection is stronger than self identification, it is evident in the way the elder lives, many Native elders have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for continuing their cultural way of life.

      Social Worker Response

    • Be aware of your own cultural background and values

    • Don’t say that you are Cherokee in attempt to connect with the elder

    • Don’t romanticize tribal culture and ask questions to satisfy your own curiosity


    Horgan, J. (2003). Peyote on the brain. Discover: Science, technology, and the future. Retrieved May 8, 2009 from

    Nagel, J. (1997). American Indian ethnic renewal: Red power and the resurgence of identity and culture. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195120639.

    Pember, M.A. (2008). Indian Relocation: Sending Roots under Pavement. Daily Yonder: Keep it rural. Retrieved April 26, 2009 from

    Radar, B. F. (n.d.). Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (1936). Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieve April 28, 3009, from

    The Urban Relocation Program. (2006, September). Indian Country Diaries: Assimilation, relocation, genocide. Retrieve April 26, 2009 from

    Wilkins, A. (2004, April). The Indian Child Welfare Act and the States. National Conference of State Legislators. Retrieve d May 8, 2009 from