Termination is an ugly word in Indian country

Termination is an ugly word in Indian country

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John Ahni Schertow
October 10, 2006
 

Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji) 10/9/2006 – To most Americans the word “termination” usually means getting a pink slip with your final paycheck telling you that your employment has been terminated. To the Indian people of America it means that their lands or nations have been removed from the rolls of protected lands and are now open to sale and settlement by anyone. In other words, their nation has been “terminated.”

On August 1, 1953 the 83rd Congress of the United States passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 calling for the termination of all Indian tribes located within the States of California, Florida, New York, and Texas. They added to the list The Flathead Tribe of Montana, the Klamath Tribe of Oregon, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, the Potowatamie Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the Chippewa Tribe of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.

The Resolution also called for all of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ offices serving these tribes or any other tribe “freed from Federal supervision” be abolished or closed. The passage of Resolution 108 was immediately followed by a number of termination bills drafted as a direct result of the Resolution. From 1954 to 1960, 61 tribes, groups or Indian communities were terminated.

In 1957, four bands of Paiutes (the Shivwits, the Koosharem, the Indian Peaks and the Kanosh) were terminated. When asked why they did not object to termination they said they did not understand what was happening. They didn’t understand the legal language and they were much too poor to ask for legal advice. Their land was leased to cattlemen at low prices or put into trust in a bank in Salt Lake City until it could be sold or leased.

Termination for the Paiutes meant they were on their own without birth certificates, Social Security numbers, land deeds, etc. In essence, they were landless, homeless and left without the proper identification to move forward.

Some of the above facts can be found in a book called “Makoce” published by Vivian One Feather with cooperation by the Black Hills State College with Charles Underbaggage serving as the consultant through a grant from the U. S. Office of Education’s, Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It is available at the Prairie Edge Bookstore in Rapid City, SD.

Most of the tribes terminated in those terrible days of the Eisenhower Administration, fought for and eventually regained their status as federally recognized Indian tribes. But not all.

The Court of Claims awarded the Confederated Bands of Ute Indians of Utah more than $31 million on July 31, 1950. A rivalry between the mixed bloods and full bloods, one that had been brewing for many years, caused the two groups to divide and set up their own individual programs. In 1954 the federal government decided to “terminate” the mixed bloods. The termination of the full bloods was supposed to follow, but it never happened. As a result the mixed blood Utes soon found themselves on the worst end of poverty. They did not understand how this happened to them and like the terminated Paiutes, they never understood the legal language that led up to their termination and they were also too poor to contest it.

Dennis G. Chappabitty serves as the attorney for the “mixed-blood” Utes. In a letter to Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) he wrote, “On November 4, 2002, the mixed blood Uinta Utes filed an action in the U. S. District Court, District of Columbia, alleging that the U. S. Department of the Interior failed to properly implement the “Ute Partition Act” thereby illegally stripping them of their Indian status. On January 27, 2006, their case was dismissed on the basis of their failure to file within the six-year statute of limitations. We will appeal the Court’s dismissing the Felter case to the U. S. Court of Appeals.”

Chappabitty said, “Our government criticizes other nations for their bad human rights records. The socially destructive, backward and abhorrent policies of Apartheid in South Africa, Jim Crow in the South and Communism in the Soviet Bloc are dead. Yet this Nation’s fraudulent termination of the mixed-blood Uinta Utes remains alive as one of the civilized world’s darkest stains where the rich and powerful dominated the weak and intimidated the poor and defenseless Indians.”

Oranna B. Felter, a member of the terminated tribe, the lead plaintiff in the legal battle to get the rights of the Uinta restored, wrote recently, “I’m one of the original terminated 490 and I was there when termination started. I was 11 years old when we were terminated and I am now 61 years old. When I was younger I didn’t understand what had happened to us. I was raised knowing who I was and living as an Indian. Then when termination hit the Mixed Blood Uintas like a bomb in the Nevada desert in the 1950s, it totally ripped the hearts and souls out of most of our people.”

What happened to the Mixed Blood Uintas is an ongoing story. Tribal members like Oranna Felter have been fighting all of their adult lives to correct this grievous wrong. For more information on this case you can contact Dennis B. Chappabitty at P. O. Box 292122, Sacramento, CA 95829.

Termination is an ugly word especially when it involves the future hopes and dreams of a people. It is a word we no longer need to use in Indian country.

(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, “Children Left Behind”)

© 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

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