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"The coming tide": Viewpoints on the formation of U.S. federal Indian termination policy, 1945--1954

Samuel H Herley, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Despite the painful legacy of post-World War II federal Indian policy, the issue of termination during the era had nuanced elements that meant different ideas to different groups and individuals. Especially during its formulation prior to its widespread implementation across the United States starting in 1953, there existed division and even confusion as to what termination entailed. Those charged with making difficult decisions on termination during the formative years of the policy also came from diverse backgrounds and held varying, even shifting, viewpoints on the issue. Individual perspectives on termination had much to do with not only race, class, and gender, but also region, personal experience, human interaction, and ideology, among other variables. This study examines the different meanings that termination had for different people, and why. It focuses on four individuals of the era in particular: Napoleon Bonaparte Johnson, a Cherokee, first president of the National Congress of American Indians, and advocate of many of the overarching goals of termination; Helen Peterson, an enrolled Oglala and eventual NCAI executive director who became a steadfast fighter against termination; Oliver La Farge, the Association on American Indian Affairs president, writer, and anthropologist who supported termination early in some instances before his strong opposition; and Hugh Butler, a politically conservative Nebraska senator in the 1940s and early 1950s who consistently and relentlessly supported termination. The goal is to explain the diversity of perspectives and to show how the four individuals – each representing different groups – held different views for varying reasons and thus reacted to termination correspondingly. Ultimately, divisions among American Indian rights advocates over termination and its meanings presented serious obstacles to the development of effective resistance to the policy, which had unremitting support from powerful individuals in Congress, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and private enterprise.^

Subject Area

Biography|History, United States|Native American Studies

Recommended Citation

Herley, Samuel H, ""The coming tide": Viewpoints on the formation of U.S. federal Indian termination policy, 1945--1954" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3398397.