At different times in U.S. history, there have been people who felt it important to recognize
indigenous American communities, and people who have felt that those communities
should go away and that their people should be assimilated into the overall population.
During the 1950s the latter, assimilationist sentiment prevailed, and Congress adopted a
policy of “termination,” i.e., the termination of the Federal Government’s trust relationship
with Indian tribes.
Congress’s goal was to “make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States
subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are
applicable to other citizens of the United States, [and] to end their status as wards of the
United States” as rapidly as possible. H.R. Con. Res. 108, 83rd Cong. 1st Sess., 67 Stat.
Pursuant to this policy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) operated a program to relocate
people from reservations to cities, frequently resulting in dislocated populations of urban
Congress also enacted Public Law 280 during this period, through which the Federal
Government relinquished jurisdiction to five U.S. states over Indian country located within
their borders. California was one of these states.
Also under to this policy, Congress terminated a number of tribes, meaning the Federal
Government ceased to recognize them. As a result, these tribes lost their sovereignty and
found their tribal identities under grave threat.
Termination subjected these tribes to the full panoply of state legislative and regulatory
authority. State laws replaced any internal tribal legal and regulatory schemes. Tribal
members could be haled into state courts on civil and criminal matters involving tribal
members on former tribal lands.
Federal services including education, housing, emergency welfare and health care were
no longer provided. Participation in various federal grant programs became unavailable.
Critically, the land bases that the Federal Government had, for better or worse, held in
trust for these tribes were converted into private property, subjected to state taxation, and
then mostly sold away, with the proceeds going to individual tribal members in cash.
Tribal governmental structures disappeared with their land bases and governing authority.
Terrible outcomes under the policy of termination are partly why Indian tribes oppose
calls to abolish the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Whatever its faults may be, the
federal trust responsibility preserves tribal land bases, and the Federal Government
provides services in the course of fulfilling that responsibility.
|These contents are for general education
and are not to be construed as legal advice.