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By the same token both by law and policy the psychotherapy and gear generally cannot take any action with respect to the property of the Union people without their consent. So as I say we're stuck with each other. The voice you just heard was that of the Honorable Robert L. Bennett United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs and our guest this week on the N E R. Washington forum this week a discussion of the problems facing the American Indians and government efforts to solve those problems. I many our public affairs director Bill Greenwood our guest Commissioner Robert L. Bennett serves as a top aide to Secretary of the interior Stuart you'd all under whose cabinet department the Bureau of Indian Affairs was long ago organized commissioner Bennett. How many Indians are there in America today. Well we feel there are around 600000 union people in America need the stamp on the 1960 census in the population being said
since then. And there are about 400000 that are on our near Indian reservations or Indian areas and there are about 200000 that have been pretty well integrated into the community life of the nation. Of course we hear a great deal about Indian reservations. Why are they still in existence in this 20th century. Well the Indian reservations are in existence because they are the homelands of the Indian people. And I think we need to draw a clear distinction between the lands of the Indian people and the reservation system. I think that people like anybody else should have the right to have a homeland. Yeah but I do feel feel that something needs to be done about the reservation system. So you are in part perhaps changing the name from reservation to a city or some no I imply that the Indian people owning this land should have the
same rights. Property owners that they should be able to compete in the financial markets for investment capital to develop their resources and that they should have more decision making responsibilities with respect to their reservation and to their day to day life. Perhaps it might be upper Stingo for you to explain to our listeners how the reservations are set up now with respect to organization. Well generally the tribes have elected tribal officials. These are elected by the people and there are three basic types of government on the reservation One is the general council where all other people have to meet to make decisions. The other is where they have a representative group such as a tribal council or a business committee and then the third is the more traditional
form of government like at the pueblos where the governors are selected. Through the religious leaders as has been the case for many centuries. You say these people have little control over their own prayers. How does this occurs is because of government overseeing of the reservations. Yes this is because the Congress of the United States by various statues has made the secretary of the Interior the trustee for their property and so with the secretary being the trustee for their property he is responsible for their property and as a consequence the owners of this property cannot take any action which would in any way cover this property without the approval of the secretary of the Interior or his representative. This seems like quite a quite a unique arrangement of property ownership in this country. What you're really saying is that these people almost land they can't do anything whether.
While they can use it themselves and so on but they can't sell it are they are lease it or take any action which would put any encumbrance on this property. In a sense it's unusual because in this case it is done for a class of people. On the other hand it is not unusual because there is much property in this country that under crusts of various kinds. Now we have an Indian Resources Development Act under consideration by the Congress. One of the main features of this it would loosen up this trust and enable Indian tribes to make some decisions with respect to their property without requiring the approval of the secretary of the interior. However the secretary would still protect the title and it would still land still would remain in his not taxable status as a system or an outgrowth of the early Indian days the frontier days were dropped some felt the Indians just weren't able to take care of themselves or yes for some other reason for a while this is an outgrowth of the of the earlier system because these reservations were set aside
either on the basis of treaties with the various tribes or as a result of acts of Congress or by executive order. And in each case at the time the reservation was set aside it was the trusteeship was established for the protection of the property. However now with the education level of the Indian people rising and for instance on several tribal councils and tribal business committees we have college graduates. We feel that it's time that this very tight trusteeship should be relaxed to give more local decision making responsibility to the tribal leaders. Commissioner Bennett how many reservations are we talking about how many are there in the United States. There are over 200 reservation in the in the United States but they range from a small reservation which may have only four or five million people to the Navajo reservation which is a size
of the state of West Virginia and there are there are in excess of 100000 Navajo Indians. And how many different tribes are there in this country. There are also over 200 different tribes in this country today other words the tribes generally occupy the reservation which are nearly synonymous for you almost about of course there are exceptions there are in some cases you may have a a tribe. Occupying one or two reservations and another case you may have three or four tribes and one reservation but generally it matches out. Mr. Commissioner is there any uniform of American policy or official policy toward Indians in this country. Yes we have some general policies with respect to the Indian people however we recognize that individual situations call for exceptions to the general policies and we are basic policies of course are
established for us by the Congress of the United States. And the policy is for us to take every action which would enable the Indian people to assume responsibility for their error for their own affairs. We used to hear a great deal of karma. Whether truth or fiction I don't know and perhaps you can tell me that the Indian people although they got here first were not American citizens. Is this the case today and if it is or isn't. Was it ever there was a time where people were not citizens of the state in which they lived or of the United States. However in 1924 Congress passed a general Citizenship Act which largely grew out of the military service and people feeling that if they were going to serve this country they should be citizens and so there was a general citizenship back passed in 1924 and now Indians are
citizens of the United States and of the states within which they live. And this then gives them the right to vote in elections. Yes they have the right to vote in elections and wherever this has been challenge we have a court decisions both by federal and state courts establishing and guaranteeing this right. As a sidelight you hear so much on television of the old laws where Indians couldn't drink far water I suppose now they have that as well as all other rights so there's yes there was a general law repealing. The Act which prohibited the use and sale of liquor to Indian people. Now the act which was passed about 954 as a result of efforts by Indian veterans through the American Legion and other veterans organizations. The law does give local option. So it's still up to the various tribes they can and then they have to vote whether or not they wish
the right to have the use of alcoholic beverages on the reservation is still up to for a local determination. Lobby very similar to a city voting prohibition that is Grace quite common. Yes a marriage. Mr. Commissioner in 1965 or there was a conference here in Washington. About which we're going to you as you were trying to do sort of a want of training for image. Why do you feel a public relations campaign of sorts is needed by Indians to myke their. Image to the public. Well I think of it it grows out of from a historical idea that the Indian people were an incompetent people. And I think Indian people were very competent in their everyday environment otherwise they could not have survived. However the environment has changed become considerably and the changed environment has caused a gap between Indian people and the rest of the country. And our effort is to help the Indian people
close this gap and as I indicated earlier since we do now have many Indian people who are say college graduates and have various skills yet they still retain their their identification with their tribal groups and as Indians. So this is the reason why they want to try to make it clear that they are being successful in the environment which surrounds them. But in so doing they are not turning their back on their heritage or our traditions. What you're saying is that you need to. Keep up with the changes going on around them and in some cases this has not happened. This is correct and with our our big goal is to close the gap. B you feel the gap is being closed. Commissioner Brown. Are they now placing the rest of society. Well I don't think the gap is closed yet but I have a lot of optimism and the reason for this optimism is the initiative and
responsibility that Indian people are taking to close the gap themselves rather than feeling the government was going to close the gap for them. And so I am very optimistic that now that they have themselves established this as a basic philosophy that we will see much more rapid progress than when the government is trying to do it for them. Now do you feel perhaps the reservation system itself has contributed to the so-called gal. Yes I believe the reservation system has contributed to this gap and there have been other conditions which I. He spoke about it on a talk I gave about poverty among Indian people the Indian people of have a poverty culture having lived in poverty for so many years. They also have some of their own cultural traits. Which mitigate against economic self-sufficiency. And finally they have the
reservation system whereby they could try a country either control are the. Certain responsibilities that the government has taken has mitigated against their moving into self-sufficiency. I'd like to talk about the so-called poverty culture for a moment the New York Times last year had an article on some Indians in North Dakota which said there are about three hundred ninety thousand in the nation apparently they were talking about. Indians who live in squalor despite the anti-poverty program which had then been implemented by the government. What has contributed to this continuation of substandard living by the Indian community. Well. One factor I believe is geographical isolation. Generally speaking most of the Indian people are located away from.
Areas where there has been much industrial development. And these people had a fairly basic economy when the farms and ranches of these isolated areas required labor by people now all of these have all been mechanized. And as a result the local ur the local rural employment opportunities have practically dried up and most of these reservations are and are in rural areas. And their isolation puts them quite a ways away from where a large industrial development is taking place. Consequently they have to leave the reservation areas which many of them do not wish to do and in many cases are not able to do. We recognise this and have several training programs that are underway both by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and cooperation in cooperation with other federal agencies to bring about a meeting
between the unemployed Indian people and the employment opportunities that exist. I might say that the industries such as the law like chronic industries look with favor upon Indian people because they possess certain natural skills such as manual dexterity hand and eye coordination and patience tolerance and these make them very highly productive workers and many of the so-called benchwork. Well you know to many of the jobs are away from the reservations are. Is there a great reluctance on the part of Indians to leave their reservations and seek jobs elsewhere. There has been but I think this is breaking down because the Indian leadership on the reservation has realized that. Many many of the reservation areas will not support the increasing population and the leadership of the Indian tribes is assuming now the responsibility of advising some other younger better qualified individuals to take
advantage of other employment opportunities leaving whatever economic opportunities there are on the reservation for the less able. So what we may see in the next decade or so is actual withering away of this reservation system ransom into eventually. Well I think we'll see whether in the way of the reservation system but I think we will always see. Groups of Indian people being based on their own lands and that we are making every effort to here to develop these basic resources which might exist in their homelands to support the largest number of Indian people possible at a decent living at these levels. There are some conflicting accounts of the actual economic situation one schools as they are the most impoverished people in this country. And another point to a lot of these oil farms which have been found on reservations is that this matter of an
Indian Well a significant factor. Has there been a lot of oil. While as far as the Indians are concerned we have to look at it from two points of view one point of view is in terms of any finding of oil or minerals on land which may belong to an individual. The other is the development of mineral resources on land which might have been owned by a tribal group. And in cases where there have been these finds of land owned by individuals many of these individuals are very well off. Financially and economically and of course like any other group of people even though all that. These individuals have had large amounts of money they have not necessarily improve themselves as much as. We wish. And then there are also cases where there have been fines of oil and other minerals on tribal lands. Here most of this
money is programmed for various tribal programs such as educational scholarships recreation programs and investment in the development of the reservation. Some of the tribes also declare dividends for the individual members out of any funds that are left over after they finance their various programs. All the words. What we're really saying is that this money belongs to be an individual in the case of a privately owned parcel of land and to try to fill my own dues. Needed to drive itself. This is correct cells. So we have really a sort of an unequal distribution of the wealth as among all of the tribes. This is true because some are located more favorable areas and there are other tribes. So I suppose really this would be a minority of those who are reaping the benefits from oil and minerals. This is true and then when you consider like the Navajo tribe that they
have received millions of dollars for mineral leases and royalties yet when you consider there are over a hundred thousand people in the tribe that the amount of money they receive doesn't go very far. You bring up money and I noted something the other day in 1966 the Bureau of Indian Affairs requested something over two hundred thirty eight million dollars to run their operation. And there is something like I think you said 600000 Indians. Seems to me you could give each one of them around $100000 and let them go their own. Why why wouldn't this work. Well I don't think it quite works out that that. That way and I think it will come to around a thousand dollars apiece based upon the appropriations. But we're talking in terms of request as opposed to what you wrote while at sea at a thousand dollars with six hundred thousand years
I'll be six hundred million. Dollars. But in any event. The problem has been that for many years all of the programs of the for the Indian people were under financed as late as world after World War 2. We did not even have enough school seats for all of the Indian children of school age sold there so that the government itself has an obligation with the Indian people to try and close this gap. And this has been the reason why there has been such a substantial increase just within the last 10 years. Now if the government had to spend money at the same say in the last 40 or 50 years at the same rate they spent in the last 10 years I think the problem would just about be over. But. In World War 2 for instance we had I believe around. 12000 school seats on the Navajo reservation and we had 30000 children of school age. So
these are some of it. So its a matter of catch up here again which is which causes the high appropriations. And I might say that at least 80 percent of our money is. Being spent for the educational program that's the actual construction the building of schools the maintenance of schools and this accounts for the. High procreation figure because it costs a lot of money to educate these days. Commissioner Bennett is the appy poverty program being used in many ways where even the humans on reservations. Yes it's being used very substantially and what we are doing as a barrow is to help the Indian people qualify for all of the anti-poverty programs with other agencies of the federal government. I think President Johnson made it quite clear when I was sworn in as commissioner that the union problem is not the obligation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs alone
but it's the obligation of the total federal government. And based upon this we are making every effort to see that Indian tribes apply for and become eligible for many of the anti-poverty programs. As a consequence of this there are many of the programs now in operation in Indian reservations. How effective these operations are I notice that this trial has been active on some reservations. Are they doing a job that is really significant as far as you can tell. Well generally speaking I believe that that they are. And of course like any other program you may have some individual breakdowns here and there but it is easy easy general observation. They are doing a very good job and that their efforts are well appreciated by the people. I'd like to divert for just a moment I recall recently the Supreme Court in effect gave the state of Florida to the Seminole reservation.
And. Apparently perhaps you can clarify this will have the Indians had not been properly compensated when there was a change in there. How many cases like this are her father and her sobs the Florida case any serious problems of Indians not being properly compensated when their land is taken over for other uses. Yes this is been the historical complaint against the government by Indian people as a consequence of which the Congress passed a law in 1947 giving the Indian tribes a certain time within which to present their claims against the government through a union claims commission. And as I recall of over 600 claims were presented to the claims commission some of these have been dismissed some of them have been consolidated with other planes but there are still pending I believe in the neighborhood of over 300 claims in around
seven in the settlement of these claims there have been sub some substantial payments made to Indian tribes. And if the claims are for one either the government didn't pay them at all or to the government did not pay them what the land was worth at the time the government took it. And there is a third type of claim is where the tribe is suing the government because they feel the government mismanaged their resources. And the procedure is for the tribe to make its claim and then for a decision to be made as to whether or not they have a valid claim then subsequently another trial or hearing is held to determine the battle. Now as far as the Seminoles of Florida it has been held that they have a valid claim. The next step will be to determine the value of the claim and what will happen when the values or a sadist and the payments for My Will this be playing with directly to
the tribes or world or be an administrator in your department. Generally speaking what happens is the money is deposited in the treasury of the United States and then the tribe has to go to Congress to get an Act authorizing the expenditure of the money. Generally speaking we favor the investment of the funds in economic development and in jobs our money producing kinds of enterprises. However in most cases what usually happens is that a certain sum of money is paid out individually to members and another part of the claim is made available to the tribe and they must develop programs and budgets which require approval by the secretary of the Interior or his representative but eventually the money will be used for the drive for their own benefit. That is correct. They have a
the control of the money. We asked them to plan the programmes we give them technical assistance and planning away programs but the sector of the carrier cannot spend any of this money without their consent and are approved. Mr. Bennett as a final question with you as commissioner of Indian Affairs Can you were there any predictions on what is going to happen to these Indians during the next few years. Is it going to be a brighter picture or. I'm I'm very optimistic because I think they mean people have a lot going for them. They have an increasing public support throughout the country. Their support in Congress is increasing and there is no question but that the president is personally concerned with their lot and for this reason has committed all of the resources of the federal government. I look for are they gap to be closed quickly and dramatically in the next few years. Not only because of this effort on the part of the government but more important because
of the effort on the part of the Indian people themselves. Thank you very much Commissioner Bonner. Thank you. You've been listening to a discussion of the problems facing the American Indians and the government efforts to solve those problems. As you heard the solutions are complex as are the efforts but they are going on. And the man in charge of that effort is the Honorable Robert L. Bennett United State's commissioner of Indian Affairs in the department of the interior. It has been our pleasure to present this interview with Mr. Bennett. This program was produced for national educational radio by W am you FM American University Radio in Washington DC. I am national educational radio's public affairs director Bill Greenwood inviting you to join us again next week for another edition of the guinea our Washington
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NER Washington forum
Problems facing American Indians
Producing Organization
WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on problems facing Native Americans and the government efforts to solve those problems. Guest: Robert L. Bennett, United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Other Description
Discussion series featuring a prominent figure affecting federal government policy.
Public Affairs
Media type
Host: Greenwood, Bill
Producing Organization: WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Speaker: Bennett, Robert L. (Robert LaFollette), 1912-2002
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-24-31 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:31
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Chicago: “NER Washington forum; Problems facing American Indians,” 1967-10-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 29, 2022,
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APA: NER Washington forum; Problems facing American Indians. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from