Sunday, July 21, 2013

American Indians, Alaska Natives, and the New Deal

(A WPA poster advertising an exhibition of American Indian art. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The New Deal had a tremendous impact on American Indians and Alaska Natives. For example, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, sometimes called the "Indian New Deal," halted the loss of tribal land (for more information, see here and here).

Tens of thousands of American Indians and Alaska Natives found jobs in the WPA and CCC, often on their own reservations or ancestral lands. During the first six years of the CCC's existence "77,000 Indians had obtained work in the Indian Division. Accomplishments included developing 6,200 springs or small reservoirs, digging 1,350 wells, constructing 1,064 impounding dams and large reservoirs, and building 896 vehicle bridges, 51 stock bridges, 7,000 miles of truck trails, 2,500 miles of firebreaks, and 6,300 miles of telephone lines." When the CCC program was terminated in 1942, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier wrote, "The ending of a heavy, heavy the Indians, and to social policy in the United States." (Calvin W. Gower, "The CCC Indian Division: Aid for Depressed Americans," Minnesota History, Spring 1972, available for viewing here.)

(Alaska Natives in the CCC, restoring old totem poles. Image courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives.)

The WPA helped find and preserve American Indian history through narratives and archaeological excavations. At least two New Deal buildings are used today to display American Indian artifacts (see here and here).   

(WPA workers assisting in an archaeological excavation near Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. The photo's description reads, "From this site, archaeologists are unearthing evidence of an Indian culture which they believe is the oldest yet discovered in the Mississippi Valley. Image courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.) 

(WPA poster displaying a Navajo drawing, and promoting the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Considering the poverty that exists in many Indian and Alaskan communities, a new New Deal would be helpful. Unfortunately, Republican politicians across the country are more concerned with lowering the minimum wage, cutting off food assistance to low-income Americans, blocking job programs for unemployed veterans, barring low-income Americans from preventative health care, getting rid of Social Security, prohibiting Americans from having protections against corporate greed & crime, and making the poor pee in cups to prove they're not drug addicts. Thus, a new New Deal to lift up our fellow citizens, and our Indian & Alaskan neighbors, just isn't in the cards. What a shame.  

No comments:

Post a Comment