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Timeline / Citizenship, Services, and Sovereignty / 1953: Congress seeks to abolish tribes, relocate American Indians

1953: Congress seeks to abolish tribes, relocate American Indians

Congress passes a resolution beginning a federal policy of termination, through which American Indian tribes will be disbanded and their land sold. A companion policy of “relocation” moves Indians off reservations and into urban areas. Through these policies, the Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to move thousands of American Indian peoples to cities and urban jobs.

“Nothing else that Congress can do causes tribal members to lose more of their rights than termination. Termination is the ultimate weapon of Congress and ultimate fear of tribes. Despite its drastic effect, the Supreme Court has held that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause to terminate a tribe.” —Stephen L. Pevar, The Rights of Indians and Tribes: The Basic ACLU Guide to Indian and Tribal Rights, 1992

Federal-Tribal Relations, Land and Water, Native Rights
Arctic, California, Great Basin, Great Plains, Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Southeast, Southwest, Subarctic

Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation brochure distributed to Native Americans, 1950s. Although some Native American chose to move off reservations to urban areas, fifty percent returned home to their families and reservations within five years because of a lack of job opportunities, education, and social services.

Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration