The end of World War II and the Korean War brought many young American Veterans home to start new lives and new families. American industry expanded, creating jobs and a stronger economy for communities everywhere – everywhere, except Tribal reservations. American Indian service men and woman went home to depleted resources and no job opportunities. But another war would soon emerge, and for the next twenty-five years it would threaten the existence of Indian Nations across the country.
In 1946, the federal government announced its goal to ‘terminate’ Tribal governments. The program was a revival of the United States Allotment and Assimilation Policy, which had ended in the 1930s, due to the resistance of tribes and the work of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier. Collier instituted the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), which was to “rehabilitate the Indian’s economic life and to give him a chance to develop the initiative destroyed by a century of oppression and paternalism.”
However, after leaving office in 1945, Collier’s opposition sought to overturn the bill, introducing the idea of the Indian Termination Act. Its supporters used words like “freeing” and “emancipating” Indians, instead of the common language used in past years by the U.S. government, such as “civilizing” or “domesticating” the Indian. But, the goal was the same – tribes would not be recognized as sovereign governments; they would no longer exist.
The Act established the government-to-government relation and empowered tribes to apply, on equal footing, for federal government funds, like states, and to subcontract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to run their own operations.
By the 1980s, Tribal leaders were seeing their efforts take form. They began attending ATNI meetings regularly to discuss matters of legislation, as well as to express their individual tribal needs.
“ATNI has always been, and continues to be successful at organizing tribes, and tribal leaders, to collectively share and provide information on their needs. Many of the needs expressed at the meetings developed into other highly proactive organizations, such as the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB), the Intertribal Transportation Association (ITA), the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the Intertribal Timber Council (ITC), the Northwest Intertribal Court System (NICS), Native American Business Entrepreneurs Network (ONABEN), and the ATNI Economic Development Corporation (ATNI-EDC),” said Mike Marchand, Vice Chair of the Confederated Tribes of Colville and ATNI 1st Vice-President.
As member tribes increasingly expressed a need for economic development, ATNI established an informal committee, whose mission was “to help tribes achieve economic parity.”
“Conrad Edwards of the Council for Tribal Employment Rights (CTER), originally drafted the mission statement,” remembered Antone Minthorn of the Cayuse Tribe and former chairman of the economic development committee. “ It was around 1987, Joe DeLaCruz was president of ATNI, and all the committees were asked to create mission statements. Conrad had an office in Seattle on the Sea-Tac strip, and let the EDC Committee use his conference room.”
The Committee focused on, and pursued objectives, such as establishing goals to develop tourism; investigating energy as a viable window for tribal economic growth; and actively participating in policy in regards to transportation issues.
In 1948, tribes began receiving mandates, issued by the Internal Revenue Service, who sought to collect back income tax on profits generated by crops – sighting the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had been ratified in 1913. It allowed Congress to tax “incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Although the law had never applied to tribes, they were now being ordered to pay, but refused, based on land trust agreements
This issue spawned significant concern among northwest tribal leaders, who, in the fall of 1953, came together in Spokane, Washington, to discuss the need for a formal northwest Indian organization. It was here that Joseph R. Garry (Coeur D’Alene), Alex Sherwood (Spokane), Frank George (Colville), George Friedlander (Colville), Paschal J. George (Coeur D’Alene), Clair Wynecoop (Spokane), Alex Saluskin (Yakama), and Sebastian Williams (Tulalip), formed the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. Its purpose would be “to form a united front in our fight against income taxes and other menaces that are presently confronting Indian reservations,” wrote Joseph Garry in an early letter to tribal leaders. Although ATNI would rise out of the threat of taxation, it would be the possibility of Indian termination that would hold it together.
Immediately after ATNI had formed, federal lawmakers passed House Concurrent Resolution No. 108, confirming the federal government’s commitment to the termination of tribal nations, to eliminate the political relationship between the federal government and tribes, in addition to dissolving federal benefits and services to Indians.
“Tribal governments in the northwest were targeted because of the number of small tribes, in comparison to other regions. The federal government thought that if they were successful in destroying the existing larger tribes in the northwest, the smaller tribes would not have the ability to stand alone,” said Wynne.
Many of the post-World War II Indian reformers thought both tribes and the United States would benefit from the overall goal of termination. Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah was the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, and a driving force behind termination policy. He was determined to see the policy fully instituted by congressional leaders, and with the enactment of Public Law 280, which gave state courts criminal jurisdiction over Indian lands, it would seem that tribal governments would, in fact, be dissolved.
“If Indians want to protect their rights, they should see that Public Law 280, and any other tentative amendments, do not take any more rights away from Indians,” stated Louie MacFarland, former-chairman of the Umatilla Tribes, at the 1954 ATNI second annual convention.
As an increasing political pressure, ATNI began to influence many federal and state lawmakers and policies. This, in part, was because Joseph Garry had become the president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and northwest tribes had a strong presence in the organization. But, the dedication, commitment, and more importantly, the unity of the region’s tribes, solidified the end of the termination era.
By the early-60s, tribal termination had come to a halt, but not without devastating 109 tribal governments across the country. However, the accomplishments, and vision, of the tribes, collectively represented by ATNI, became the foundation of the era of self-determination.
As the 1970s grew closer, ATNI was gaining tremendous technical ability. They put initiatives together and were successful at getting them through congress. The organization was evolving through tribal membership and support, enabling it to truly carryout its founders intended function. Tribal leaders attended meetings organized to formally address the on-going issues of Indian healthcare, fishing rights, tribal sovereignty, as well as the looming need for economic development. The unity of tribes working to empower each tribal nation and individual, allowed leaders, such as Joe DeLaCruz (Quinault) and Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam), to effectively create the 1975 Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (P.L. 93-638), which has, and will continue, to strengthen tribal economies and tribal governments. Many tribes contributed staff and what little resources they had to complete the initiative, such as the Flathead Tribe (MT); the Yakama Nation (WA); the Confederated Tribes of Colville Indians (WA); the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (OR); and many others.
“ATNI worked closely with lawmakers to write the Act. By this time, the northwest delegation had a strong influence on Indian policy and elections,” said Wynne. “A lot of U.S. Senators came from the northwest and were strong supporters of tribes because tribal nations closely monitored elections, and still do.”