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John Collier and Mexico in the Shaping of U.S. Indian Policy: 1934-1945

Wilbert Terry Ahlstedt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Relations between Mexico and the United States have often been tense and yet they have always been interrelated. In the nineteenth century Mexicans were viewed by their northern neighbors as degenerate racial hybrids. In terms of Native Americans and their relationship to land, Mexico was seen as an example of how not to conduct Indian policy. But during the 1930s, significant numbers of officials within the Roosevelt administration expressed interest in and admiration for Mexican domestic policy, especially in relation to Indian policy. One of the most enthusiastic proponents of Mexico's federal Indian policy was U.S. Indian Commissioner John Collier. Collier was especially interested in Mexican Indigenismo, the pursuit of greater social and political inclusion for indigenous peoples in an effort to protect their interests and ensure that they received the same rights as all other citizens. Reacting against previous U.S. policies that attempted to destroy Indian culture while stressing private property holdings, Collier, inspired by Mexico's program of Indigenismo, sought to overhaul United States Indian education, restore Indian self-government, and move Indian land tenure back towards its traditional communal structure. In this he was promoting a Native American form of self-reliance through modernist principals that was closely related to Mexican integrationist models. This work explores the history of Indian land tenure and contrasts it with European expectations. It will examine Collier's efforts to change prevailing Indian policies. It scrutinizes the influence that he derived from Mexico. To better understand this process of change, it will view the transition in United States and Mexican Indian policy that helped to produce this change. This study will approach the matter primarily from the perspective of land-its use and ownership-that most important asset of both the Native Americans and their European colonial "guests".

Subject Area

History|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Ahlstedt, Wilbert Terry, "John Collier and Mexico in the Shaping of U.S. Indian Policy: 1934-1945" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI3689614.