Native Narratives: The Representation of Native Americans in Public Broadcasting

Termination, Relocation, and Restoration

This section examines how public broadcasting news outlets have covered U.S. policies of termination and urban relocation of Native American tribes. Public broadcasting programs in the AAPB collection covered the experiences of the Menominee and Klamath tribes extensively. As such, although the federal government targeted many tribes for termination, this section focuses mainly on coverage related to these two tribes. The section also highlights how both tribes fought for tribal restoration. For more information about these policies and how they have impacted other tribes, please visit the Additional Resources section.


Although the federal government had engaged in efforts to end their responsibilities to Native tribes before World War II, beginning in 1947 their efforts intensified leading to the termination of more than 100 tribes. In 1953, Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108, which called for federal supervision and control of tribes to end "as rapidly as circumstances will permit."15 The policy entailed ending the recognition of tribal governments as well as eliminating tribal services, such as schools and healthcare. For Native economies, the policy meant economic ruin, as communities were subsequently subjected to property taxes and building codes with which they had no experience.16 As a result, 108 tribes and nearly 13,000 Native peoples experienced termination.

The 1957 radio series Indian Country (University of Denver), hosted by anthropologist Ruth Underhill (1883-1984), includes interviews with tribal members from the Sioux and Navajo Nations about their perspectives on the termination and relocation policies. The first episode, "On Indians Past and Present," illustrates how older and younger generations often disagreed over the policies, with younger tribal members generally accepting moving away from the reservation. This generational divide is noted in the programs dealing with Menominee and Klamath termination. Most importantly, "On Indians Past and Present" explicitly connects the two policies with the erasure of Native culture and assimilation to white society. In the words of Mel Bickle, a white Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) official:

Well, I’ve always felt that the only real solution for the Navajo was to cease to be a Navajo, to get off the reservation and become a citizen just like everybody else and make his living the same way as other people. Forget that he is a Navajo in other words.

Other episodes in the series discuss the experiences of Native American veterans, and the challenges that Native peoples face in areas of education and health. The series is notable for its attention to Native American perspectives and issues during a period in which their experiences often were excluded from mainstream reporting. The series does reflect the period in which it was produced, however, and at times uses Native American stereotypes and the testimony of white academics and officials in place of Native perspectives.

Among the terminated tribes, the Klamaths of Oregon, which include the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes, and the Menominees of Wisconsin, were the largest and most prosperous.17 Your Land, My Land (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1991) details the termination of the Klamath tribes and features coverage from 1958 by Tom McCall (1913-1983), an anchor for local news station KGW and later governor of Oregon. In his reporting, McCall clarifies why the termination policy would negatively impact the Klamath tribe. He explains how tribal members had to choose between "taking an undetermined amount of cash for their heritage" or trying to "hang on as part of a nebulous management entity that promised very little" security. McCall refers to an added provision in the Klamath termination bill that allowed individual Klamath the possibility of receiving cash payments for their share of reservation lands. Members could either leave, unsure as to whether they could ever purchase their land back, or stay and have their land managed by a complex and confusing tribal management program.18 Archival research by journalist Roberta Ulrich indicates that tribal members did not fully understand what this plan actually meant, and there was never a vote to either accept or reject termination; votes only occurred on various plans to achieve termination. Ultimately, in 1958 the Klamath tribes voted on whether to withdraw or stay and were officially terminated.19

Like Your Land, My Land, "The Last Menominee" (WHA-TV, Madison, WI, 1966), an episode in the National Educational Television series Local Issue, explains that many Menominee did not fully understand the scope and consequences of termination. A Menominee man remarks in an interview that the hardest challenge was "trying to keep people aware of what termination meant." The efforts of Senator Arthur Watkins Senator Arthur Watkins (R-Utah, 1886-1973) further prevented the Menominee from fully understanding the policy. The program shows how cash payments resulting from a 1951 settlement with the federal government were used to manipulate the Menominee into voting for termination. In 1953, Watkins, the most outspoken proponent of termination, helped to rewrite legislation authorizing payments to include a provision that withheld the funds if the Menominee did not accept termination.20 As a result many Menominee believed that they were voting on the actual payment plan or that they had to vote for termination in order to receive their money. Thus, despite efforts by the Menominee and other Wisconsinites to prevent termination and to reverse previous votes, the Menominee tribe was officially terminated as a politically distinct group in the eyes of the federal government in 1961.21 "The Last Menominee" explicitly condemns Watkins’ manipulation and the termination policy by stating that the United States is "systematically, deliberately, eradicating the last dug-in roots of Indianness, roots that were dug deep into the land before Columbus."

Image from The Last Menominee, WHA-TV (1966),

Your Land, My Land and "The Last Menominee" align with Professor of Journalism Mary Ann Weston’s argument that small town news media often gave more attention to Native perspectives and concerns than media from more distant areas. In a case study on Menominee termination, she draws on reporting from local Wisconsin newspaper the Shawano Evening Leader that depicted tribal members as "concerned, well informed, and apprehensive" about the policy. Contrastingly, commercial news outlets from more distant locales such as the Chicago Tribune and Green Bay Press-Gazette depicted the Menominee as largely assimilated and either "pitiable victims or lazy freeloaders.''22 Your Land, My Land’s inclusion of Tom McCall’s original reporting and the perspectives shared in "The Last Menominee" confirm Weston’s analysis.


Alongside termination, the U.S. government initiated a policy of relocating Native Americans from their reservations to urban areas. After World War II, the policy began as a way to provide employment to returning Native veterans and soon became a tool to address poverty on many reservations. In 1956, Congress passed Public Law 959, which provided funding for the policy and created vocational training centers in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas.23 In exchange for leaving the reservation, the government promised Native peoples employment opportunities, temporary housing, and access to education. Jobs offered were mostly seasonal work or manual labor, which rarely offered long-term employment, but many felt that they had to leave their reservations due to the lack of available jobs.24 As a result of the termination and relocation policies, more than 200,000 Native Americans were relocated to cities such as Denver, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas between 1950 and 1968.25

Programs that examine the relocation policy include "Life on and off the Reservation," an episode of Ruffled Feathers: The Dakota Sioux (University of South Dakota, 1967). The episode includes interviews with Dakota tribal members about their understanding of the policy, but also heavily features the perspectives of white academics and participants, who suggest that relocation only benefits Native Americans if they can assimilate into American society. Other episodes in the ten-program series include an in-depth look at the economic opportunities for the Dakota Sioux and the experiences of Dakota Sioux college students. A 1982 episode of Front Street Weekly also interviews Native Americans living in Portland, Oregon, on their experiences leaving or growing up apart from their communities. They discuss the loneliness of city life and the discrimination they encounter.

In contrast to these two programs, Looking Toward Home (Chino & Krusic, 2003), a program produced by a Native owned and operated production company with support from Vision Maker Media (See Section 5: Visual Sovereignty: Native-Created Public Media), examines how relocation also brought Native Americans together in urban areas. Told through a Native perspective, the program details the creation of American Indian centers across the United States that provide community support to urban Native American communities. Despite the challenges of city life, the program illustrates how these centers strengthen cultural ties and provide support to those living apart from their traditional communities.


In response to land development projects proposed by Menominee Enterprises Inc. (MEI), the Menominee mobilized for more control over their land and fighting for tribal restoration. "And the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth," a 1971 episode of National Educational Television’s Realities series, explores the resulting economic and societal hardships of Menominee termination that officially occurred in 1961.26 The program highlights how, despite these challenges, the Menominee continued to come together as a community and as a people at the Menominee County Fair. The show also discusses the Legend Lake development project in which MEI sold land to white buyers.27

In response to fears that the project would push the remaining Menominee out of their remaining lands, a group of Menominee created the organization Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS). DRUMS connected rural and urban Menominee to mobilize for greater control of MEI and their community.28 DRUMS member Joan Keshena Hart (Menominee), who was essential in mobilizing Native Americans living in Chicago, is interviewed in the 1984 Wisconsin Public Radio series Current Perspectives on American Indian Women.

Menominee (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, WPNE, 1973) features an interview with Sylvia Wilbur, a prominent member of DRUMS who later became chairman of the MEI board of directors. The group also was successful in electing Ada Deer as chairman of the Menominee Voting Trust.29 The Menominee, under the leadership of Deer, who became a prominent Native American figure, continued to lobby Congress for tribal restoration and recognition.30 In 1974, shortly after Menominee aired, the tribe was successful in regaining their tribal status. "Menominee County," an episode of the Counties of Wisconsin series (Wisconsin Public Radio, 1975), features Menominee speaking about the challenges of restoration, including establishing school programs and other reservation policies. Ada Deer went on to become the tribe’s first female chair, a position she held from 1974 to 1976. From 1993 to 1997, she became the first Native American woman to hold the position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.31

Like the Menominee, the Klamath regained their tribal status in 1986, a struggle documented in Your Land, My Land (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1991). The show includes interviews with Edison Chiloquin (1924-2003), the only Klamath who retained his hunting and fishing rights due to his refusal to accept cash payments resulting from the dissolution of the Klamath reservation.32 A World War II veteran, Chiloquin occupied the site of his ancestral village and resisted attempts by the United States government to remove him for over a decade. Congress finally granted him the land in 2000.33

Tour Our Resources:

  • Primetime Wisconsin; 102 (PBS Wisconsin, 1987)

    This program features Menominee youth making their own documentary films about their community.

  • History of Oregon Indians (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1990)

    This program is a documentary exploring the history of the relationship between white Americans and Oregon Native American tribes. This relationship has had a negative impact on the local Native Americans, erasing their culture and agency. The documentary conveys the relationship through historical photographs, interviews with tribal government officials, and audio recordings from older Native Americans, who remember being imprisoned, killed, and otherwise suppressed.

    This five-part series focuses on the Native American war on poverty. The series moves through federal programs that harmed Native Americans, such as the 1952 Voluntary Relocation Program, and government attempts to terminate Native sovereignty in order to alleviate World War II debts from 1954-1962. Federal attempts at assimilation through relocation and termination failed in their goals and sparked political consciousness in Native peoples. The American Indian Movement (AIM), a part of the Red Power Movement, was born in 1968. President Lyndon Johnson sought to provide federal support to Native nations as a part of his war on poverty in America. Focusing on unemployment, education, and housing, Johnson fought for Native sovereignty again. Richard Nixon continued this movement toward self-determination of Native nations. National Native News is a nationally broadcast news series that provides news for Native and non-Native Americans from a Native American perspective. - Horses of Their Own Making (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1993)

    This documentary looks at the history of the Oregon Indians both before and after the great wave of white migration in the mid-19th century. As white immigrants laid claim to the territory, Indians were forced onto reservations and had their culture suppressed; only now are they starting to recover and rediscover their heritage and voices.

Next: The American Indian Movement