The historical backdrop to the Hiawatha encampment: The Indian Termination Policy

This is the last in a series looking back at the 2018 homeless encampment along Hiawatha and Franklin avenues. Part 1: Hiawatha encampment: Last year’s tent city is a lesson in unintended consequences. Part 2: Hiawatha encampment: Lessons learned from last year’s homeless tent city. Part 3: Hiawatha encampment: The camp is gone. The problem’s still here.

Hiawatha encampment. (Photo: Hennepin County)

This series has covered the tent city that sprang up in south Minneapolis in 2018, predominantly occupied by homeless Native Americans. The encampment is part of the legacy of the Indian Termination Policy, yet one more example of broken treaties and the U.S. government’s efforts to force Native Americans to assimilate into white society.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) developed what had the benign-sounding name “Voluntary Relocation Program,” according to the APM Reports story Uprooted: The 1950s plan to erase Indian Country,

Between 1952 and 1972, it [the BIA] provided one-way transportation and a couple hundred dollars to Native Americans willing to move to a city….

The goal was to move Native Americans to cities, where they would disappear through assimilation into the white, American mainstream. Then, the government would make tribal land taxable and available for purchase and development. The vision was that eventually there would be no more BIA, no more tribal governments, no more reservations, and no more Native Americans.

The incentives and opportunities the U.S. government promised to Native Americans under the program “gave way to discrimination, isolation, dead-end jobs and poor living conditions that continue today,” according to a New York Times story.

While the program failed to live up to its promises, it fueled a mass migration out of Indian Country. Today, more than 70 percent of all Native Americans live in cities, according to the Decolonial Atlas. It continues:

The Minneapolis–Saint Paul metropolitan area is home to one of the largest and most tribally diverse urban American Indian populations, numbering well over 35,000. The size of the Twin Cities’ indigenous population boomed as a result of the a part of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which defunded many reservation services and paid for relocation expenses to the cities in an attempt to assimilate the country’s indigenous peoples.

Indian Termination Policies were reversed in the 1960s and 1970s, with President Richard Nixon playing an important role. Yet add up the collective trauma and dislocation caused by broken treaties, the Boarding School Era, and the Termination Era, and it shouldn’t be surprising that Minneapolis has a large number of homeless Native Americans.

According to a MinnPost story:

In 2015, Minnesota’s American Indian residents were homeless at 17 times the rate white Minnesotans were — a rate that actually represented an improvement over a much greater gap during the Great Recession, according to the Minnesota Homeless Study, conducted by Wilder Research.

Mike Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation, said the people living in the 2018 Hiawatha encampment were in a situation that most people couldn’t deal with. “As Native people we have been under the gun, for lack of a better term, genocide, since 1492,” he said.

That oppression is still happening in a lot of areas today, he said. People don’t realize the amount of sacrifice Native Americans made to make this country what it is. “We are still here,” he said.



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