Termination Testimonials from Tribal Legacy



by Stephanie Wood, University of Oregon, Honoring Tribal Legacies

The U.S. government sought to end the federal-trust status of Native Americans and assimilate them once and for all into American society, as expressed in policies from the 1940s through the 1960s. Such policies affected the legal status of tribal peoples, weakened their governmental authority, removed federal trusteeship and certain services that had been provided to reservations, and raised the specter of gaining more tax revenue from tribal people—who would no longer be recognized as belonging to tribes. This was a Cold War period, when the feeling was running very strong against anything that might resemble Communism. Tribes were seen as too communal. Racism was also fierce in this period, as “minorities,” especially ethnic groups of color, were looked down upon. The Melting Pot Theory was much in favor, as the mainstream embraced the concept that Americans should all be homogenous.

Sure enough, termination was a painful blow to indigenous community unity and cultural preservation, totally out of sync with tribal wishes and contrary to a form of activism and advocacy for tribes that had been growing in the wake of World War II (and the specter of the genocide of the Holocaust, which represented extreme intolerance for cultural differences). The blow was also economic, as about ten thousand square kilometers of reservation land lost its protected status and came to be owned by non-Natives. Public Law 715 (1954) stipulated that tribal rolls be established for the distribution of per capita payments from land claims.

The Western Oregon Termination Act became law in 1954, and according to the Oregon History Project (OHP), this law removed recognition from 109 tribes or bands, and 60+ of these were in Oregon, hitting that state especially hard.  Termination entailed the erasure of legal status as American Indians, the closing of reservations, and the loss of land.  Ridiculously small sums were paid in compensation.  According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, per capita payments to the Siletz amounted to $792.50. Payment could be a mixed blessing, some individuals were glad to get the money, while others were concerned about the selling of land to non-Natives. There were also efforts to put a cap on enrollments, such as among the Klamath, where federal authorities said all new children born could not receive any payments.

Besides the corresponding alienation of land as a result of the termination, rich resources such as timber, oil, and water were all coveted by non-Natives, and Congress was determined to promote the interests of such individuals, hungry to gain access to new wealth. Thus, opportunists made millions while the 1,659 Klamath members each received $44,000.

In the 1970s, the tide began to turn, as indigenous people, such as Ada Deer (Menominee), lobbied Congress. Ada’s group, Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS), was beating the drums of change. Considering that the Civil Rights Movement was now fresh in citizens’ minds, the concern also widened over the loss of Native Americans’ civil rights. OHP reports that Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination Act in 1975, which meant tribal peoples could exercise self-governance and their sovereignty would be respected. The concept of government to government relations (when tribal governments had dealings with other governments) grew in significance again.

Despite the Self-Determination Act, many tribes still had struggled to regain federal recognition. At the Grand Ronde Restoration Hearing in Congress in 1983, a Grand Ronde tribal member, Karen Harrison (then 16 years old), said: “All my life, I have only known termination. People ask me what tribe I am, and when I tell them, they’ve never heard of it. That, in itself, would mean a lot to me: for people to know that I am part of the Molalla Tribe of the Grand Rondes, and how proud I am to be a member of my tribe.” While some tribes still struggle for the recognition, the Grand Ronde won their battle in Congress in 1983.  The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians had gone before them, winning restoration of their recognition in 1977 and 1982, respectively. Then came restoration for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw (1984), the Klamath Indian Tribes (1986), and the Coquille Indian Tribe (1989).

Regaining lost territories was not always a part of the new status, whether in 1975 or the 1980s. Recapturing rights to reservations could require another major effort.  The Grand Ronde Reservation Act got on the books in 1988. As other reservations were reestablished, the size of territories was much reduced, and scattered non-Native properties cut across the landscape in many cases.  In 2017, President Obama signed amendments to the Grand Ronde Reservation Act that were meant to streamline the regaining of such properties within tribal territory.

For tribes that have yet to regain recognition, it has been a long and frustrating process of petitioning.  The Clatsop-Nehalem tribes on the coast of Oregon, for example, tried to join with the Siletz and Grand Ronde tribes, given that the latter had regained federal recognition. But this effort was not successful. The Clatsops are related to the Chinook tribe, and some Clatsops are actually enrolled in the Chinook tribe, gaining some benefits. But full tribal incorporation for all Clatsops has remained elusive. The Chinook enjoyed a brief period of federal recognition given by President Clinton in 2001, only to be reversed by President Bush, and the paperwork in 2001 had specifically excluded the Clatsop, anyway. The Chinook (of Washington state) have long-standing issues with the Clatsop and Nehalem.

Despite a lack of federal recognition, some 200 members formed the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes of Oregon. Resolutions for recognition were introduced in Congress in 2014 and 2015 and were expected to move slowly.  There were no co-sponsors. One of the Clatsop-Nehalem goals, if their recognition is restored, would be to seek the return of their ancestors’ remains that are in museums in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, all tribes persist and endeavor to manage their own affairs as best they can.


Sample “entry” questions:

From what Mr. Archuleta says (the first testimonial), can we gather that the Indian Reorganization Act a positive step for tribes?

How did the size of the reservation change over time, according to Mr. Archuleta?

In the testimonial of Mr. Archuleta, how did the Grand Ronde regain federal recognition?

In the second testimonial, from Mr. Johnson, where did tribal members go after Termination? Why would that be a detrimental change?

After termination, what was the only piece of land that was left of the Grand Ronde reservation?

In the third testimonial, Mr. Robinette of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska describes the Relocation Act and its impact on his tribe.  In what cities did his people end up?  Were they far away and separated from one another?

What were “service areas” that were set up in the cities for Native Americans?  What were the pros and cons?

Mr. Robinette also describes the process of trying to recreate a tribe after federal recognition was restored.  What did that entail?  Why was it an ordeal?


Sample “essential” questions:

What is the historical context that produced the “urban Indian” in American society in the mid-twentieth century?  What did this mean for cultural survival?

How do tribes look back upon termination?

How do they see the restoration of federal recognition?


Sample “big idea”:

 The colonization of America’s first peoples was expressed in a very unequal relationship between tribes and the U.S. federal government.  The latter had the power to push for treaties that reduced tribal territories and relocated tribes. Then, as we see, the federal government could remove recognition and dissolve reservations, and then reinstate that recognition, at its own whim. Very rarely were tribes voices and perspectives taken into account.  Very rarely were they allowed self-representation in a “democratic” society.


Sample “enduring understandings”:

 As we see from these testimonials, termination was felt widely by tribes across the country. It had the potential to deeply undermine the preservation of traditional life-ways. But we are also seeing that tribes fought to regain recognition and the restoration of their rights to self-determination and sovereignty.


A journey of healing:

In every dark cloud, there can be a silver lining.  With the Relocation Act, we saw tribal members moving to cities and giving up their traditional way of life. But they eventually found each other in the cities and developed a process to press for the restoration of their rights.  For the Ponca Tribe, which was virtually erased from the earth, we see the survivors find their way to resurrecting their tribe, writing their own constitution, and organizing a vote to approve the new constitution.  Mr. Robinette proudly states, “They accomplished all of this.”


Glossary and Who’s Who:

AuCoin, Les (1942–): AuCoin was born in Portland, Oregon. He served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He introduced the Grand Ronde Restoration Bill to Congress, which led to the restoration of federal recognition of their tribal status (taken away in the 1954 Western Oregon Termination Act).

Hatfield, Mark (1922–2011): Hatfield was born in Dallas, Oregon, and served in the state legislative assembly, two terms as governor of Oregon, and then went into the U.S. Senate. Concerned about racism, in 1953 he got legislation passed in the state assembly that prohibited discrimination based on race in public accommodations. The concept would become federal law later on. When in the Senate, Hatfield also fought for the restoration of federal recognition for tribes.  When he passed away, the Grand Ronde Tribe wrote an obituary of tribal friend Mark O. Hatfield.”

Indian Relocation Act (1954): Many tribes had been relocated over the centuries, being pushed onto reservations by treaties. But this federal law aimed to encourage Native Americans to leave their reservations and move to cities, where, the U.S. government hoped, they would assimilate more easily and lose their cultural distinctiveness. Individuals willing to move to cities would have economic help with transportation and moving expenses, the purchase of tools and equipment, clothing to use for new jobs, health insurances, tuition for vocational training, and even some money to buy a house and furnish it. While the retention of cultural ways would face serious obstacles, in the 1960s “urban Indians” were getting together, finding common ground, forming communities, and beginning to press for their civil rights and self-determination once again. By about 1980, the movement to the cities dropped way off.

Indian Reorganization Act (1934, with Alaska and Oklahoma added in 1936): Also called the Wheeler-Howard Act and the Indian New Deal, this legislation was passed in the U.S Congress in the time of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was designed to reduce federal control over Native American affairs and to encourage sovereignty and self-determination. The act also hoped to reduce the encroachments on reservation land and to help tribes strengthen their economic production. Under this act, tribes were discouraged from allotting communal tribal lands to individuals, which had led to easier sales. Eight thousand square kilometers were returned to tribal ownership, taking it “in trust.” But the checkerboard distribution of tribal and non-tribal properties persisted. Interestingly, the law specified that its application could be defeated if a majority of tribal members voted against having it applied to their tribe; and the result was 172 tribes accepting the act and 73 rejecting it.

Ponca Termination (1962–1990): Many tribes had their own dates of termination and reinstatement.  For the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska was decimated by epidemic disease, loss of land, and removal and assimilationist policies, so when termination was declared, it was something like the final blow. Many tribal members had already gone to live in cities. But the restoration of recognition became something the tribe sought in the 1980s and won in 1990. See Beth Ritter’s study of the process of “retribalization” (listed in Additional Resources, below).


Additional Resources:

Fixico, Donald L., Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945–1960 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986).

Lewis. David Gene. “Termination of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon: Politics, Community, Identity.” Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 2009. https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmli/handle/1794/10067.

Olson, Kristine, Standing Tall: The Lifeway of Kathryn Jones Harrison, Chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community (Portland, Ore.: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2006).

Ritter, Beth R., The Politics of Retribalization: The Northern Ponca Case,” Great Plains Research 4 (August 1994), 237–255.

Ulrich, Robert, American Indian Nations from Termination to Restoration, 1953–2006 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010).

Wilkinson, Charles, Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations (New York: Norton, 2005).

Wilkinson, Charles. The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010).