Indian Relocation Act of 1956

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The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (also known as Public Law 959 or the Adult Vocational Training Program) was a United States law intended to encourage Native Americans in the United States to leave Indian reservations, acquire vocational skills, and assimilate into the general population. Part of the Indian termination policy of that era, it played a significant role in increasing the population of urban Indians in succeeding decades.[1][2][3][4]

At a time when the U.S. government was decreasing subsidies to Indians living on reservations, the Relocation Act offered to pay moving expenses and provide some vocational training for those who were willing to move from the reservations to certain government-designated cities.[1] Types of assistance included relocation transportation,transportation of household goods, subsistence per diem for both the time of relocation and up to 4 weeks after arrival, and funds to purchase tools or equipment for apprentice workers. Additional benefits included: medical insurance for workers and their dependents, grants to purchase work clothing, grants to purchase household goods and furniture, tuition costs for vocational night school training, and in some cases funds to help purchase a home.[5]


In 1947, Secretary of the Interior, Julius Krug, at the request of President Truman, proposed a ten-year program to provide the Hopi and Navajo tribes with vocational training. In 1950, the Navajo-Hopi Law was passed which funded a program to help relocate tribe members to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Denver and help them find jobs. In 1951 the Bureau of Indian Affairs began expanding the program and assigned relocation workers to Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado officially extending the program to all Indians the following year. In 1955, additional offices in Cleveland, Dallas, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, the San Francisco Bay area, San Jose, Seattle, and Tulsa were added.

The plan of assimilation that was followed assumed mainstreaming would be easier in metropolitan areas. Quotas were implemented for processing relocatees. By 1954 approximately 6200 Native Americans had been relocated to cities.[6]

Text of the Law[edit]

The main text of the act empowers the Secretary of the Interior to fund and administer a program for vocational training for eligible American Indians.

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in order to help adult Indians who reside on or near Indian reservations to obtain reasonable and satisfactory employment, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to undertake a program of vocational training that provides for vocational counseling or guidance, institutional training in any recognized vocation or trade, apprenticeship, and on the job training, for periods that do not exceed twenty-four months, transportation to the place of training, and subsistence during the course of training. The program shall be available primarily to Indians who are not less than eighteen and not more than thirty-five years of age and who reside on or near an Indian reservation, and the program shall be conducted under such rules and regulations as the Secretary may prescribe. For the purposes of this program the Secretary is authorized to enter into contracts or agreements with any Federal, State, or local governmental agency, or with any private school which has a recognized reputation in the field of vocational education and has successfully obtained employment for its graduates in their respective fields of training, or with any corporation or association which has an existing apprenticeship or on-the-job training program which is recognized by industry and labor as leading to skilled employment."[7]

Section 2 of the act sets an amount of funding for such programs:

"There is authorized to be appropriated for the purposes of this Act the sum of $3,500,000 for each fiscal year, and not to exceed $500,000 of such sum shall be available for administrative purposes."[7]

Effect of the Law[edit]

In 1960, it was reported that in excess of 31,000 people had moved off the reservation and to urban areas since 1952, with about 70% of them becoming self-sufficient in their new cities.[8] It is estimated that between the 1950s and 1980s, as many as 750,000 Native Americans migrated to the cities, some as part of the relocation program, others on their own. By the 2000 census, the urban Indian population was 64% higher than it had been in the pre-termination era of the 1940s.[9]

Overall, the program had devastating long-term effects. Relocated tribe members became isolated from their communities and faced racial discrimination and segregation. Many found only low paying jobs with little advancement potential, lack of community support, higher expenses typical for urban areas and no place to return to.

Housing available to low end workers in this period of rapid urban expansion, was often in areas most likely to be targeted for urban renewal and replaced with office buildings, freeways and commercial developments. Redlining often made it impossible for people to either find homes near their employment or to be able to afford desirable housing. Children of relocated workers had difficulty enrolling in segregated public schools and faced the same discrimination as their parents.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rebecca L. Robbins, "Self-Determination and Subordination: the Past, Present, and Future of American Indian Governance" (87:122) in M. Annette Jaimes (editor), The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance, South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-424-8. p. 99.
  2. ^ Employment Assistance Program, The United Sioux Tribes of South Dakota Development Corporation. Accessed online 2009-05-04.
  3. ^ Information on Chippewa Indians Turtle Mountain Reservation, Turtle Mountain Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Belcourt, North Dakota. Accessed online 2009-05-04.
  4. ^ History and Facts, Phoenix Indian Center. Accessed online 2009-05-04.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Weeks, Philip (2014). ""They Made Us Many Promises": The American Indian Experience 1524 to the Present". John Wiley & Sons. pp. 196–197. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Public Law 959". Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Oklahoma State University Library. Retrieved 21 September 2013. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Murrin, John; Johnson, Paul; McPherson, James; Fahs, Alice; Gerstle, Gary (2008). "Liberty, Equality, Power: Volume II: Since 1863, Enhanced Concise Edition". Cengage Learning. pp. 743–744. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 

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