Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975
The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (Public Law 93-638) authorized the Secretaries of the Department of the Interior, Health, Education and Welfare and some other government agencies to enter into contracts with, and make grants directly to, federally recognized Indian tribes. The tribes would have authority for how they administered the funds, which gave them greater control over their welfare. The ISDEAA is codified at Title 25, United States Code, beginning at section 450.
Signed into law on January 4, 1975, the ISDEAA made self-determination the focus of government action. The Act reversed a 30-year effort by the federal government under its preceding termination policy to sever treaty relationships with and obligations to Indian tribes. The Act was the result of 15 years of change, influenced by American Indian activism, the Civil Rights Movement, and community development based on grassroots political participation.
The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 was an early step in the renewal of tribal self-governance, in the forms of creation of constitutions and employment of counsel. The IRA was somewhat limited, as all tribal actions were subject to review by the Secretary of the Interior (via the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
In the 1950s some members of Congress passed legislation to renew the effort to have Native Americans assimilate, and to terminate the special relationship between the federal government and tribal nations. The government sought to terminate the legal standing of numerous tribes, judging their members ready to be independent US citizens. More than 100 tribes and communities were terminated. For more on Termination, please see Indian termination policy.
The failure of termination policies became obvious with assessment by the late 1960s. Native Americans and the federal government began to work for a return to greater Indian rights represented by the earlier IRA. The passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA) was influential. ICRA guaranteed the application of much of the Bill of Rights in Indian Country, a guarantee which Native Americans on reservations had not enjoyed.
The rise of activist groups in the 1960s, such as the American Indian Movement (AIM), and high-profile demonstrations such as the occupation of Alcatraz, helped bring the issue of Native American rights to greater prominence in public policy. President Richard Nixon's "Message from the President of the United States Transmitting Recommendations for Indian Policy" (8 July 1970) recommended self-determination for Indian tribes as a goal of the federal government. His message said that termination was an incorrect policy. Nixon called for broad-sweeping self-determination legislation. This goal was met in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
If a tribe wants a new day care center, etc., the tribe contracts with the appropriate government agency (a "638 contract"). When it receives the grant, it manages the construction and operation of the infrastructure. This enables the tribe to manage its affairs more quickly, rather than waiting for projects to be managed by a federal agency.
The BIA at first resisted this change. The process was strictly for approval of funds for tribal use. Continued efforts by tribal leaders to obtain the grant money and pressure from Congressional representatives helped bring about a new way of doing business. The influence of the BIA over tribal affairs slowly lessened. In addition, the United States Supreme Court in Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma v. Leavitt found that the Federal government was liable for payments under a 638 contract.
- Jack Utter. American Indians: Answers to Today's Questions (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press) pg.278-279
- William C. Canby, Jr.. American Indian Law in a Nut Shell (St. Paul: West Publishing Co.) pg. 23-33
- Charles Wilkinson. Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.) pg. 180-187
- The American Presidency Project Statement by President Gerald R. Ford
- Robert J. McCarthy, The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Trust Obligation to American Indians, 19 BYU J. PUB. L. 1 (December, 2004)
- Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma v. Leavitt, 543 U.S. 631 (2005)