Movements by Native Americans Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1615 Words
Date:  2022-04-04

In November of 1969, some Native Americans, 200 in number took over the abandoned police station on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Indian activists stayed on the island for 19 months to draw attention to the conditions their reservations were in (Markoff 128). The Native Americans said that the island was symbolic of their reserves that had no running water, had sanitation facilities that were in a bad condition, there were no industries which meant the rate of unemployment was high, there were no facilities for health care and the soil was not suitable for agriculture as it was rocky.

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A political militant group of Native Americans arose during the late 1960s and beginning of 1970s. Among the many groups in America, Native Americans had faced the most severe challenges. American Indians were America's most impoverished minority group all through the 1960s and faced more deprivation than any other group on every socioeconomic basis. Indeed, the rate of unemployment among the Indians was ten times that of the entire nation's average, and almost half of the Native Americans were living below the poverty line (Markoff 128). The life expectancy of Native Americans was 44 years. The average American had a life expectancy of thrice that of the Native American. Living conditions were so bad that in one town on the San Carlos reservation which had 2500 occupants telephones were only 25 in number, and a majority of the homes had toilets that were outside of the house. Also, these households relied on stoves that used wood for generation of heat.

Although there were areas that were more underdeveloped than the areas occupied by Native Americans, the conditions of the reservations were a lot worse. Native Americans reported a higher death rate than other groups living in the United States like Latin Americans and African Americans. The causes of death were diseases like pneumonia, dysentery and tuberculosis. Homicides and suicides also made their contribution and were 2-60 times higher for Native Americans than the entire United States population. Most families on the Navajo reservation in Arizona were severely poor (Markoff 130). They had a high birthrate- 2 times than in the U.S. The standards of living were low and houses had just one or two rooms. 60% of homes on the reserve had no electrical power, and only 20% of homes had running water and sewers. The levels of education were low with the typical resident having been in school for just five years, and less than one in six adults had made it through high school.

During the Second World War, Native Americans started to rise against the conditions they were subjected to. The Native Americans formed the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 1944; this was the first major association that was inter-tribal. Among the concerns raised by the association were that the Indian land rights had to be protected and educational opportunities for Native Americans be improved. In 1953, Congress voted in to allow states to have legal rights over Indian reservations without the consent of the tribe (Markoff 135). The national government looked for ways to transfer Indian national responsibilities for 12 tribes to the states "termination" and permanently move Indians to urban areas. The NCAI strongly opposed these measures. Indeed, the NCAI slogan was "Self-determination rather than termination" A Blackfoot leader known as Earl Old Person said, "It is important to note that in our Indian language the only translation for termination is to 'wipe out' or 'kill off' and 'how can we plan our future when the Indian Bureau threatens to wipe us out as a race?' It is like trying to cook a meal; in your tipi when someone is standing outside trying to burn the tipi down."

By the end of the 1950s, Indians had a new spirit of Nationalism. The Tuscarora tribe that lived in upstate New York led a resistance that was successful in efforts against the conversion of reservation land to a reservoir by the state. In 1961, Indians formed a new militant organization which they called the National Indian Youth Council. The organization started using the phrase "Red Power" and catered for protests, marches and "fish-ins" to demonstrate against the state abolishing the rights of Indians to fish that had been guaranteed by national treaties. Native Americans who lived in the area of San Francisco Bay set up the society of Indian history in 1964 to represent history from the Indians (Markoff 137). In parallel, the Native American Rights Fund sued the states that had illegally possessed Indian land, abolished hunting by the Indians and had violated water right of federal treaties. A lot of tribes also sought legal action against strip mining or use of pesticides on lands owned by the Indians.

The most popular of Indian associations was the American Indian Movement (AMI). AMI was formed in 1966 by some Chippewas in Minneapolis to demonstrate against brutality by the police. During the fall of 1972, the association led young Indians, Indians living in urban areas and traditionalists along the "Trail of Broken Treaties" to Washington, D.C. They took over the offices of the Indian Affairs' Bureau located in Washington, D.C. and refused to leave for seven days with the aim of dramatizing the grievances of the Indians (Markoff 137). A group of Indians that were heavily armed seized the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota in the spring of 1973 and occupied it for 71 days.Militant protests bore fruit. The Indian Education Act law passed in 1972 gave Indian parents more control over the schools their children went to. The Indian Health Act passed in 1972 addressed what was lacking in the healthcare system for Indians while the Indian Child Welfare Act passed in 1978 gave tribes power over custody decisions that involved Indian children. A number of memorable decisions by the Supreme Court helped the cause of Indian sovereignty and self-government for the Indians (Markoff 140). The Williams V. Lee case in 1959 won the battle for upholding the tribal court's authority to make decisions regarding non-Indians. The Menominee Tribe won the case against the United States that sought to make invalid Indian fishing and hunting rights that had been acquired by Indians through treaty agreements.

The beginning of the 1970s saw a number of tribes start suing whites in order to recover the land that the whites had seized illegally. In 1980, the national government compensated the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot of Maine with $81.5 and the Sioux in South Dakota with $105 (Markoff 142). Decisions by courts nationwide also allowed tribal authorities to sell cigarettes, open gambling casinos and collect taxes.

Indians are no longer a group that is about to be extinct in America. The census done in 1990 revealed that the total number of Indians in America was over two million, which was about 5 times the number in 1950. About one million Indians live on reservations while a majority of the others live in urban centers. With the growth of the Indian population, a lot of them have major accomplishments of their own like author N. Scott Momaday who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (Markoff 142). To this day, Native Americans still face severe challenges related to unemployment, level of income among others but they are adamant that they will stay true to their Indian identity and culture and refuse to be treated as if they are dependent on the national government.

When Native Americans occupied Alcatraz Island, the federal government initially put a barricade all-round the island and asked the group to leave. The group did not leave but agreed to hold formal negotiations. The talks were not productive because the Indian wanted a deed to the island. The group stayed on at the island and although the federal government was insistent on them leaving, they did not take any aggressive action to relocate them. The Indians continued occupying the island all through 1970 by which time challenges facing the indigenous group made occupation lose momentum (Markoff 143). The result indicated that student recruits that were part of the occupation returned to their lectures at UCLA and had the urban recruits replace them. Several people opposed the leadership of Oake on the island which led Oake to eventually leave when his teenage stepdaughter died in a building stairwell.

The hostile occupation went on for several months after which the national government disconnected electricity to the island and stopped the supply of fresh water to the island. There was a fire which had either side blaming the other for destruction of a number of historic buildings (Markoff 145). The government was running out of patience but the president then-Richard Nixon approved a removal plan that was peaceful. The plan was to be conducted with the least force possible and when the island had the least number of people. In June of 1971, members of the force removed 5 women, 4 children and 6 unarmed men from the island.

After AIM protesters occupied BIA offices, they seized quite a number of files and caused the building a loss of $2 million. In addition, they presented a list of 20 demands to President Nixon that they said needed immediate action (Markoff 145). The government offered $66,000 for transport in return for the protesters to end the takeover. Also, the government agreed to appoint a Native American to the BIA office.

At the initial stages of the Wounded Knee takeover, both the government and the BIA remained mum. AIM started to wreak havoc however, by building fortifications and taking up arms. The government had to step in. A 71-day occupation followed that had 2 AIM members murdered (Markoff 146). In the end, the leaders of AIM made a peace-pact with the government clearly stating fair treatment for activists and fair reviewing of a number of treaties by the government.

Works Cited

Markoff, John. Waves of democracy: Social movements and political change. Routledge, 2015.

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