Indian Relocation Act of 1956
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, which terminated the tribal status of numerous groups, it played a significant role in increasing the population of urban Indians in succeeding decades.
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, where employment opportunities were thought to be favorable. 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.
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 BIA relocation offices in Cleveland, Dallas, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, the San Francisco Bay area, San Jose, Seattle, and Tulsa were added. Relocation to cities, where more jobs were available, was expected to reduce poverty among Native Americans, who tended to live on isolated, rural reservations.
Through the first half of the 20th century, the majority of the American population had become increasingly urbanized, as cities were the places with jobs and related amenities. But in 1950, only 6% of Native Americans lived in urban areas.
The plan of assimilation that was followed assumed that mainstreaming of Native Americans would be easier in metropolitan areas and there would be more work opportunities for them there. Quotas were implemented for processing relocatees. By 1954 approximately 6200 Native Americans had been relocated to cities.
Text of the Law
"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 found 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."
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."
Effect of the Law
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. 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.
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, and suffered from the lack of community support, and the higher expenses typical for urban areas. They could not return to dissolved reservations.
Given the rapid urban expansion of the period, Native Americans often found that lower cost housing was often in areas most likely to be targeted for urban renewal and replaced with office buildings, freeways and commercial developments. This added to the instability of their lives. Redlining often made it impossible for people either to 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 social discrimination as their parents.
But, Native Americans in cities began to form pan-Indian communities. In the late 1960s, they organized to work for joint aims: Native American self-determination, civil rights and sovereignty, through groups such as the American Indian Movement, which was founded in Minneapolis in 1968 by urban Indians. They organized across tribal lines to put political pressure on the federal government for more self-determination. Many Native Americans continued to move to cities until about 1980.
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